With the 2012 season in the books, Lions247 will take a look at each of Penn State's position groupings, breaking down both how the Nittany Lions fared at that position this past season and what the future holds. Today we look at a Penn State secondary that made some serious strides after a bumpy start.
The Nittany Lions will look for another big year from cornerback Adrian Amos in 2013.
2012 roundup: It was an interesting season for John Butler's first group of defensive backs. Early in the year, the Nittany Lions gave up big plays on third-and-forever, had communication breakdowns and missed tackles. By season's end, though, the secondary had jelled into a steady if unspectacular unit despite nagging injuries to its top two safeties. Butler, one of the squad's most fiery coaches, had very little to work with in terms of experienced scholarship players. But, like the Nittany Lions did at a few other positions this season, the defensive backs got by on grit and elbow grease. Senior Stephon Morris flourished as a full-time starter, playing strong in coverage and improving his tackling skills. Sophomore Adrian Amos was the unit's most physical presence and locked things down on the other side. Junior safety Malcolm Willis, as usual, was steady and solid and his partner, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, made huge strides from the start of the season to its end. Jacob Fagnano gave up some big plays in the passing game but turned in a couple of big plays of his own and was solid in run support. DaQuan Davis was the only freshman defensive back to see any significant time and showed both potential and that his game needs some polish.
Departures: Morris (60 tackles, five breakups, no interceptions), Fagnano (38-5-1), Mike Wallace, Patrick Flanagan
Morris served as a mentor for the younger players and a team leader as well as a reliable presence on the outside. Fagnano was playing nearly as many snaps as either starting safety by season's end. Wallace did not play due to injury in his final season at Penn State and Flanagan, a run-on, decided to give up his final year of eligibility.
Jordan Smith, the first player to commit to Penn State after the sanctions, and Anthony Smith will both arrive in January. The reps they get during the spring will be invaluable for a cornerback rotation that needs bodies. Jordan Smith could eventually play safety. Robinson is a big hitter who could be just as valuable on special teams early in his career. Georgia cornerback Deondre Singleton could round out the class.
Skinny: Despite the loss of Morris, the secondary should improve next season with three of the top four players returning. Obeng-Agyapong, who recently had shoulder surgery, and Willis will use the next few months to heal up from shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. Amos had the breakout season many expected and should only get better. The big keys for this group will be the development of corners Davis and Lucas. The Nittany Lions will obviously need a starter to replace Morris but they would also like to be able to play the nickel next season and will need one of those sophomores, if not one of the freshmen, to step in and take that role. Della Valle, who has contributed mostly as a punt returner, could be asked to do more at corner or even safety. And if Butler likes what he sees from the youngsters at corner, there is still a chance (albeit a slim one) Amos gets some time at safety. There will be more pressure on this group than there was last year as Penn State's young front seven grows up but the benefits it will receive from its added depth cannot be overstated.