Bob Shoop outlined the “non-negotiable” foundation of his defense at Penn State’s media day last week.
The Nittany Lion defensive coordinator said his unit is built on applying never-ending pressure and challenging every route in the passing game. And the coach thinks this year’s secondary has the ability to do that with speed at cornerback in Trevor Williams and Grant Haley, and a converted safety in Jordan Lucas who can cover slot receivers and play multiple roles depending on the scheme.
And there’s sophomore Marcus Allen, who has established himself as the “quarterback of the defense.”
Shoop said this year’s defense will take on its own identity, and the defensive backs are primed to play a key role in that process.
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“I feel like this is the most talent we’ve had in the secondary position for a while,” Williams said.
Shoop expressed his excitement about the team’s depth at cornerback going into the season, mentioning Christian Campbell, Amani Oruwariye, Garrett Taylor and John Reid and saying Penn State has the ability to play five or six defensive backs at a time. Haley played in 13 games and Campbell played in 10 games with one start at cornerback last season. Williams and Lucas, both seniors, are the veterans of the secondary, and Allen is coming off a standout freshman campaign.
On a dominant defense with stars at each position group, Shoop said Williams is overlooked.
The senior cornerback started his Penn State career as a wide receiver, making 10 catches as a freshman in 2012. He was open to moving to the defensive side of the ball and started six games at cornerback as a sophomore.
Last season, Williams started 12 games and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection.
“I always felt I was going to get used to the position at one point and stand out,” Williams said. “That’s what I came here — to play big-time football and be a big-time player, just take advantage of any opportunities I had to get better as a player and get my teammates better.”
Shoop thinks the quiet cornerback could play at the next level.
“He studies the game hard,” Shoop said. “He’s watched some of the top corners in the NFL, asks good questions, very thoughtful in his approach. He’s bigger, stronger and faster than he was a year ago, and I think if he has the type of season he’s capable of having, he’ll get himself into the discussion as being a draftable prospect.”
Allen has already generated discussion about his potential at the next level.
The safety started the final seven games last season and finished tied with Lucas for third on the team with 58 tackles. Allen stepped into a starting role after Ryan Keiser suffered a season-ending injury.
He made his debut against Ohio State.
Allen admitted he was nervous when he learned he’d be starting against the eventual national champions. But the nerves quickly disappeared and Allen made 11 tackles in the Nittany Lions’ 31-24 loss in double overtime to the Buckeyes.
“That’s the reason they recruited me — to play to that level (against) the elite,” Allen said.
Shoop said Allen caught the attention of former NFL coach Jim Haslett when he started working with the program as a consultant. Shoop said Allen knows his strengths and weakness — he’s working to improve his ball skills — and he’s impressed his coaches and teammates going into the season.
“Marcus Allen has done a great job,” Shoop said. “He’s the undisputed quarterback of the defense. He probably is a lot to the defense what Christian (Hackenberg) is to the offense. He’s very vocal. He understands the defense inside and out.”
Williams and Lucas also provide experience in the unit.
This year, Lucas will play safety after starting at cornerback the last two seasons. With his knowledge, Williams said he’s in position to help Haley and Campbell, while Lucas can mentor the younger safeties.
“Once we leave,” Williams said, “they’ll be in position to help the young guys after them.”