As Penn State prepares to open spring practice on March 26 in Happy Valley, SB Nation Pittsburgh is breaking the roster down by position, taking a look at who the Nittany Lions have lost from last year's lineups, who they'll return and who they've added through the 2012 recruiting class. On the menu Tuesday: the secondary.
Leaving The Roster
Cornerback D'Anton Lynn was the heart of this unit over the last two years. In 2010, he was Penn State's second-leading tackler, recording 75 stops, which is a staggering total from a corner spot. This past season, his battles with injuries forced his numbers to drop a little bit, but he still provided shut-down coverage on the outside while proving to be a reliable tackler, too. He didn't pick off a whole lot of passes, but that was more a product of his excellent work in coverage than anything else. Quarterbacks just didn't challenge him, and it's not immediately clear who on the roster will command that kind of respect in 2012.
Chaz Powell grew into playing corner opposite Lynn last season after years of playing both ways and contributing on special teams, too. His speed was an asset for the unit and the return game will definitely miss his ability to break long, momentum-changing runs, too.
Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay were a smart and reliable, if not particularly athletic, combination for the Lions at the safety spots. Sukay picked off a team-leading three passes in 2011 and Astorino finished second on the team in tackles with 86.
Returning, Looking To Step Up
Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris combine for most of the returning secondary experience. Both made spot starts last season and have played a good amount the past few years. They need to help bring their younger teammates along this spring and prepare them to step into the large void left by the departing seniors.
Freshman Adrian Amos opened a lot of eyes last season, recording 13 tackles, an interception, four break-ups and five passes defended in somewhat-limited action. He'll look to build on that momentum this spring and make the the same positive first impression on the coaching staff that he made on fans in 2011.
Derrick Thomas has a lot of talent, but frequently found himself in Paterno's dog house for his off-field behavior. If he's going to make an impact in 2012, he needs to show the new staff he can focus on the game during drills.
Mike Wallace has made a name for himself through his music, but fans haven't seen a whole lot of him on the field as the veterans have eaten big chunks of the playing time. This spring will be his chance break through and show he can become a part of the rotation.
Jake Kiley is a consensus two-star recruit from New Hampton, N.H. He was a two-way player in high school, but many expect him to find a home in the secondary when he joins the Lions over the summer.
Jordan Lucas (New Rochelle, N.Y.) and Da'Quan Davis (Towson, Md.) were also signed to the 2012 class as corners after verbaling to coach Bill O'Brien late in the process. Neither figures to be in the mix for playing time early on, as they're not yet enrolled and will not be participating in spring drills.
Penn State gave up just 162.2 yards per game through the air last season, the fifth-lowest average nationally. The departing seniors were a big part of that success, though, and if the Lions are going to be close to as tough to throw against in 2012, a lot of young guys are going to have to step up. Expect this unit to have some of the hottest battles of the spring with so many open starting spots on the line and a brand-new coaching staff evaluating a wide-open field of potential starters.