Penn State football redshirt freshman safety Ayron Monroe has a unique challenge this week.
The current scout-teamer has been tasked with acting as Michigan athlete Jabrill Peppers in practices as the team readies for the No. 4-ranked Wolverines — posing as Peppers, the dynamic, versatile linebacker/running back/receiver/kick returner is no small feat.
“Obviously it’s hard to replicate a guy who is one of the more dynamic players in college football right now,” said head coach James Franklin after Penn State’s practice on Wednesday. “But Ayron’s a good athlete. We’re excited to get him back into the rotation here hopefully soon. But he’s done a good job.”
Franklin said the staff and graduate assistants go through each week to choose which of their own players might suit the role of an opposing standout best. Then, he said, it’s up to the individual (in this case Monroe) to watch film of that player on their own and figure out how to imitate him. The staff also draws up cards to assign Monroe certain situational roles, and whether he is on offense or defense, the opposing players must react accordingly.
Tight end Mike Gesicki said that Monroe has performed well in the position.
“He’s a great athlete,” said Gesicki. “He’s been doing a great job, knows his role. … Obviously No. 5 on the other team is a phenomenal player, so to come out here and give us a look like that is going to be challenging, but he’s done a great job and really accepted the role.”
Gesicki added that when a player is selected for a spotlight scout team position, their perspective is forced to shift.
“Coach Franklin talks about it all the time with our scout guys,” he said. “Just saying that they need to watch film just like we do, but to examine the (other) players because that’s what they’re going to be for the week.”
Special teams will be under a spotlight this week as well, although Franklin said no big tweaks would be made to combat Peppers in that regard. Penn State’s unit has improved vastly and the team has found a bit of a spark in returner John Reid, but still has given up at least one huge run on defense in each of the last two games. Peppers has already returned a punt for a touchdown this season and averages 40.5 yards per kickoff return.
“We’re not going to change what we do,” said Franklin. “That’s one of the mistakes you can make is you get into one of these games and you try to change what you’ve been doing all year long for this specific opponent. The best thing you can do is keep working on the schemes and fundamentals and techniques that you’ve been doing, do them really well and make sure that your punts and kicks are in the right spot. The last thing you want to do is kick the ball down the middle of the field and give this guy 53 1/3 to work with. You want to corner him in so he doesn’t have a whole lot of room to work with.”
Franklin said the team is also preparing for athletic cornerback Jourdan Lewis to return from injury for Michigan this week, as well as veteran defensive end Taco Charlton.
Not to be forgotten in readying for Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff is the atmosphere — Penn State will head to the Big House in Ann Arbor, and pumped ear-splitting crowd noise into the Lasch fields for the duration of practice.
“We’ve been doing it since camp,” said Franklin. “But we did it as loud as we possibly could this week. I think that’s going to help us. I don’t know if you can ever completely prepare for 110,000. … But we’re doing everything we possibly can to help those guys manage that.”