In four games, the Nittany Lions will be without Marcus Allen — a reality Penn State’s defense hasn’t faced since James Franklin and his staff took over.
Allen, whose 42 starts and counting are most on the team, is going to be missed when he moves on to the NFL. Penn State safeties coach Tim Banks knows that all too well.
“He’s played a lot of football here,” Banks said on a Thursday teleconference. “There’s not a lot of things that occur in the game that he hasn’t seen before. ...When you lose a Marcus and those many starts and that much experience, sometimes that can be challenging.”
Banks thinks he has the pieces to “step in and pick up” where Allen and fellow senior Troy Apke leave off — but the former is an NFL talent. He’s a prospect who could’ve left after the Rose Bowl and no one would’ve blamed him.
Allen’s underclassman draft grades were never made public, but Banks said he’s a guy “that decided to come back when he didn’t necessarily have to.”
Banks welcomed the decision, and so did Penn State’s safety room. Allen’s provided a veteran presence to the younger defensive backs and been an instinctual piece on the field.
Excluding the late hit at Michigan State, he’s put together quite a highlight reel this season. The Jim Thorpe semifinalist has 56 tackles (four for loss), four pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one interception and a safety this season.
Whether Nittany Lion fans realize it or not, Allen ranks sixth on Penn State’s all-time tackles list, 10 behind Brian Gelzheiser at No. 5.
He’s showcased a combination of skills that Banks has never seen up close and personal.
“I’ve had guys his size but maybe weren’t quite as athletic. Or I’ve had guys who were smaller and a little faster,” Banks said. “But when you start talking about an overall combo guy, I don’t if I’ve had a guy with that type of skill-set and that type of size. He can do it all. You can drop him in the box. He can play as a linebacker, or you can play him on the hash as a regular safety. You can put him in coverage, too.
“So he has a unique skill-set for a guy his size that makes him extremely valuable.”
Talent evaluators see his value, too.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, the Penn State captain is the No. 1-rated free safety in the 2018 class and No. 44 player overall. He projects as a second-round selection. The last Nittany Lion defensive back to be taken that high was Bryan Scott in 2003.
Somewhat surprisingly, Allen would make history if picked earlier than the second. Penn State has never had a defensive back selected in the first round.
Now, Banks said he isn’t in a position to say how Allen’s game translates to the NFL. He’ll leave that to the scouts and league executives to decide.
But he called Allen “definitely one of the best” safeties he’s ever worked with — and it’s easy to see why an NFL team would want him.
“It just depends on schemes and what guys are looking for,” Banks said Thursday. “But if they’re looking for a guy who plays the game, who has a great tackle radius, who has the ability to change directions for a guy that size, I think a lot of guys would be happy with his skill-set when they get him.”