Secondary coach John Butler has a logical response for those wanting Penn State to use nickel coverages.
We will play nickel when we have nickel personnel, Butler said Wednesday.
Translation: Dont look for the Nittany Lions to unveil schemes featuring five defensive backs in this seasons final six games.
A numbers crunch, which surfaced before the NCAA levied major sanctions against the school, has altered Butlers first season. By his count, the current secondary includes six players who arrived at Penn State with scholarships.
When opponents reach third-and-long situations, Butler calls on his roadrunner package, which involves moving Adrian Amos from corner to safety, inserting true freshman DaQuan Davis at corner and using athletic linebacker Mike Hull in pass coverage. If Butler gets his way, the package will represent nothing more than a short-term fix.
One of the first things we have to do with this thing is solve it with recruiting, he said. I know a lot of the readers out there are wondering why we dont play nickel. I guess Im wondering why I only have six DBs when I took the job here. Well get that solve through time by getting our secondary numbers up to 11 and 12 and hopefully be able to play some nickel and some dime.
While most units are bracing for fewer scholarship players, the number of scholarship players in the secondary should rise beginning next season.
Davis, along with Jordan Lucas and Jake Kiley, are true freshmen. Three members of the 2013 recruiting class Neiko Robinson, Kasey Gaines and Jordan Smith play defensive back. Cornerback Stephon Morris is the only senior starter in the secondary.
Obviously the sanctions are going to effect our recruiting and everybodys number is going to take a hit or two, Butler said. But Im playing with a depleted roster so for my position, its only going to get better not only to play nickel but to play special teams.
When you look at your best special teams players, it should be your defensive backs, your linebackers, your running backs and an occasional receiver. It has to be the guys that can run and are physical. Thats the other reason the secondary has to be the biggest area of improvement in recruiting.
Penn State coaches are using the bye week to fortify recruiting efforts. Besides scouring the east and south for defensive backs, Butler, a southeastern Pennsylvania native, covers Bucks and Montgomery Counties for the program.
Its actually perfect timing to have your bye week in Week 7, he said. You cant have it any better than that.
Hes still clubbing
Donovan Smith cant avoid wearing extra protection around key body parts.
The redshirt freshman left tackle is still wearing a club to protect his injured right hand. Smith debuted the club in last Saturdays 39-28 victory over Northwestern.
Enduring pain is becoming a theme for Smith. An ankle injury forced him to miss victories over Temple and Navy.
Donovan is a really gifted player, a really special athlete, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter said. His misfortune and our misfortune is that hes been really banged-up this year. In todays game, its really hard to play offensive line when you cant use your hand. We are just trying to fight through it. He has a great future and we are excited about the way hes progressing. Hes looking forward to getting both hands.
Missing from the list
Not seeing Michael Mautis name on the list of 25 quarterfinalists for the Lombardi Award bothers some of his biggest admirers.
Its disrespectful to how well hes been playing all year, defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. Hes really been having a great year. There arent too many guys that have been playing like he has. Its a disappointment. But like I always say, as a football player you use anything as motivation and he can use that as motivation.
The award is presented to the nations top defensive lineman or linebacker. Four Big Ten players landed on the list, which makes the snub puzzling. Mauti has already captured the conferences defensive player of the week award twice through six weeks.
Its a team game and Im sure Mauti doesnt look at those things, coach Bill OBrien said. But if hes not in my opinion one of the top five linebackers in the country, then Im not sure who is.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.