When Penn State’s first official depth chart was released Tuesday and it became clear that Troy Apke won the starting job at strong safety, it wasn’t a total shock. James Franklin lauded the senior at the start and end of fall camp.
Still — back in spring and throughout the summer — some believed athletic redshirt sophomore Ayron Monroe would win the job.
Regardless, Penn State safeties coach Tim Banks said Thursday he is still proud of Monroe. He gave the position battle all he could.
“It just so happens that he got in a dogfight with another young man who’s taken some steps forward, as well, in Troy Apke,” Banks said on a morning conference call. “I don’t know that it’s anything he’s done wrong. It just had to do with consistency the young man had in front of him.”
Banks, who acknowledged at the start of fall camp that Apke had the edge, said the senior separated himself with stability.
Apke, a former three-star prospect from Mount Lebanon, has only two career starts. But he’s still a senior, someone who appeared in all 14 games last year and saw the field semi-frequently.
Banks believes that holds a lot of power, and Apke’s approach to fall camp helped put him over the top.
“He came to camp in great shape, not just physically but also mentally. I think a lot of that lends itself to the experience he’s gained over the last couple of years,” Banks said. “It gave him great confidence that he can go out, execute and play at a high level from the first practice to the last practice. We expect him to pick up where he left off in camp, and hopefully continue to trend that way during the season.”
Still, Apke’s emergence doesn’t leave Monroe waiting the season out on the sidelines.
Banks believes Monroe has made “tremendous strides” since the spring — and now that he’s fully healthy, the Washington D.C. native remains a guy to keep an eye on.
“He’s playing with, what I would say, is a little more a violent mentality back there,” the coach said. “We’re pleased with the direction he’s headed right now.”
Sutherland’s 2017 role
The Nittany Lions are pretty solid at safety. Marcus Allen has an obvious grip at free safety, and Apke and Monroe are options at strong safety, while converted cornerback and fall camp “takeaway king” Garrett Taylor is “trending in the right direction.”
So, where does that leave true freshman Jonathan Sutherland? On the outside looking in.
For now, at least.
Sutherland — a four-star prospect with offers from Michigan, Miami (Fla.) and more — was a big get for the Nittany Lions’ 2017 class. He used fall camp to exhibit those skills that made him such a highly touted recruit.
But it looks as if Sutherland, who wasn’t listed on Penn State’s first official depth chart, will redshirt in 2017.
“I guess the good and the bad of it is, he came here ready to work — but right now, we’re pretty deep on the back-end as far as our safeties go,” Banks said. “Nothing’s in stone right now. He’s showing obviously that he’s going to be a kid that can help us at some point. Whether that’s this year or next year has yet to be determined.”
Banks ‘excited’ about Central Mountain’s Neff
Justin Neff, a preferred walk-on safety from Central Mountain, is settling in with the Nittany Lions.
The Mill Hall native — who had 112 tackles and two interceptions for the Wildcats last season — has been “diligent” in learning Penn State’s playbook since arriving at the start of fall camp, and Banks is pleased with what he’s shown so far.
The safeties coach liked Neff’s film at Central Mountain and was partial to the size — 6-foot-1, 187 pounds — he brings to the secondary.
“He has the potential to help this team at some point,” Banks said. “We’re excited and happy to have him.”