PSU Football: Retooling defense is a priority
Sunday, April 12, 2009
By Ron Musselman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley has been one of the busiest men on the practice field since spring drills began last month.
He must replace seven starters from a team that finished 11-2, earned a share of the Big Ten Conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Bradley's secondary not only has been gutted by graduation, he also is operating without his top three defensive ends, including All-American Aaron Maybin, who decided to skip his final two years of eligibility to enter the NFL draft later this month.
"The secondary obviously is our biggest concern since we lost all four starters," Bradley said. "We've lost a lot of depth on the defensive line, too. We thought we were going to be OK there, but with two guys -- Maybin and [Maurice] Evans -- leaving early for the NFL draft, we've had to readjust our thinking a little bit."
The Nittany Lions' four departed starters in the secondary -- first-team All-Big Ten safety Anthony Scirrotto and second-team cornerback Lydell Sargeant, safety Mark Rubin and cornerback Tony Davis -- combined for 117 career starts and 24 interceptions.
The players vying to replace them have nine career starts and four interceptions between them.
Senior left cornerback A.J. Wallace is the most experienced returnee. He has played in 39 games in his career, with six starts. He has 66 career tackles and an interception.
Fifth-year senior right cornerback Knowledge Timmons has played safety and cornerback and served as the gunner on the punt coverage team. He has 31 career tackles and one interception.
Redshirt sophomore free safety Drew Astorino played in all 13 games last year, making three starts. He had 39 tackles and two interceptions.
Redshirt sophomore strong safety Andrew Dailey is playing his third position since last season. Nick Sukay, an often-injured redshirt sophomore from Greensburg Central Catholic High School, is pressing Dailey for playing time.
"There will be some growing pains in the secondary with all of the new people back there," Bradley said.
Besides Maybin (12 sacks last year) and Evans (12Â 1/2 sacks in 2007), the Lions also lost defensive end Josh Gaines, a three-year starter. Sophomore Jack Crawford is expected to take over for Maybin at left end and either redshirt sophomores Kevion Latham or Eric Latimore for Gaines at right end.
Penn State remains solid on the inside, with senior first-team All-Big Ten pick Jared Odrick returning at right tackle and redshirt junior Ollie Ogbu at left tackle. The top backup, redshirt junior Abe Koroma, also is back.
The good news for Bradley is that fifth-year linebacker Sean Lee from Upper St. Clair is returning after missing last year with a torn ACL in his right knee. He is not participating in contact drills this spring, but likely will replace another starter, fifth-year senior middle linebacker Josh Hull, in the fall.
Redshirt junior outside linebacker Navorro Bowman, a first-team All-Big Ten pick, will join Lee. Sophomore Michael Mauti is the top candidate to replace Butler's Tyrell Sales at the other outside linebacker spot.
Like Lee, fifth-year senior linebacker/end Jerome Hayes also has been limited in spring practice. He has missed a good portion of the past two seasons with ACL injuries, but he is expected to be at full strength in preseason camp.
"I feel like we have some of the best athletes on the team at linebacker," Lee said. "I feel like they'd be able to play on a lot of other teams."