Penn State Football Position Preview: Defensive Backs
Last season Penn State was very average on the defensive side of the football.
The Nittany Lions run defense was the strength of the team in 2019, ranking 5th in the FBS. On the other hand, Penn State’s passing defense ranked 100th in the FBS. James Franklin’s squad was able to hide its weaknesses in the passing defense last season until the Minnesota game where Tanner Morgan threw all over the Nittany Lions secondary that resulted in one of their two losses.
Penn State released its first depth chart of the 2020 season earlier in the week before they head to Indiana for a battle on Saturday.
Penn State plans on starting Joey Porter Jr. and Tariq Castro-Fields in its first game this season. Sophomores Keaton Ellis and Marquis Wilson, who both played significant snaps last season are listed as the backups. As well as freshman Daequan Hardy who will split time with Ellis to start the season.
It was a bit of a surprise to see that Penn State plans on starting Joey Porter Jr. who was redshirted last season and only played in 4 games. He will need to learn from Castro-Fields who is a veteran presence in the locker room as well as in the secondary.
It will be interesting to see if the unusual offseason will have any impact on the many younger players expected to fill roles. Outside of Castro-Fields, Penn State does not have much experience.
It seems as if James Franklin is still figuring out how he is going to rotate these players in. The Nittany Lions have no standouts at the cornerback position and it seems as if this will be more of a group effort rather than relying on the same 3-4 players every Saturday.
The inexperience this team has at corner may benefit from the veterans that will man the safety spots for the Nittany Lions in 2020. Senior Lamont Wade will be the leader of the secondary this season.
Wade broke onto the scene last season forcing three fumbles in a matchup against Ohio State. He was picked as a captain heading into this season and this coaching staff is going to need him to play like one.
Luckily, with the group of young corners that will play alongside Wade, he gets the benefit of sharing his safety role with another senior in Jaquan Brisker. Brisker is known to be one of the most athletic players on this team. The experience that both Brisker and Wade have under their belts should go a long way in locking up the back end for this defense.
The Nittany Lions lost both John Reid and Garrett Taylor who were main contributors in the secondary last season. It may take time for this secondary to come into its own, but the combination of youthful talent and veteran presences in this secondary should be fun to watch.
It would have been nice to see Penn State figure out what they have with a few non-conference games before they began Big Ten play. That is not the case the weird 2020 season that has been pushed back almost two months now will test this secondary right away.
The main question is if the longer offseason helped this secondary prepare even more for the games they have in front of them, or will the lack of in game reps for over nine months now be a wake up call when this team plays Indiana on Saturday?
At the end of the day, this was the major flaw with the Penn State defense in 2019. The Nittany Lions have lost arguably their two best playmakers in Journey Brown and Micah Parsons for the season already and any struggles in the secondary will be hard for this team to overcome.
As we saw last year, both of Penn State’s losses resulted mostly in a lack of pass coverage. The secondary is probably where Penn State has the most holes in its roster.
It will be interesting to see if Franklin’s young squad can stick with the elite wideouts in the Big Ten. They will be tested on Saturday with Indiana’s Whop Philyor who went for over 1,000 yards last season and received second team Big Ten honors.
Sam Kirk is a freshman at Penn State majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Junior / Broadcast Journalism
Sam Kirk is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. He is a writer and podcaster for the CommRadio sports department. He is also featured weekly in the CommRadio news department on Thursday newcasts. Sam has written articles all across the board that deal with baseball, football and basketball. He is also working for a football media company called Inside the Hashes, writing articles, interviewing players and contributing to their YouTube channel.