Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith is set to lose 46 career starts from his room in a few games.
Grant Haley and Christian Campbell will walk out to family with flowers in-hand on Senior Day, face Nebraska at Beaver Stadium and travel to Maryland and a probable New Year’s Six bowl. That’s it. Sooner rather than later, Smith will tap two guys as replacements — likely John Reid, the team’s best corner who was hurt this season, and Amani Oruwariye, the Lions’ leader in interceptions.
But don’t forget about Tariq Castro-Fields, the true freshman turning heads in a gradually increasing role.
“Tariq’s doing really well for us,” Smith said on a Thursday teleconference. “He’s going to have a bright future for us as we graduate two senior corners, Christian and Grant. We feel really good about where Tariq is to have a greater role as those guys depart the program.”
Castro-Fields — a former four-star prospect who chose Penn State over Alabama, Maryland and others — is making an early impact with the Nittany Lions.
He’s played in nine of 10 games this season, recorded his first career pick against Georgia State and logged three pass breakups at Michigan State. The 6-foot, 185-pound defensive back, along with Oruwariye, actually took snaps away from Haley and Campbell late in Penn State’s road loss.
“We’re continuing to get him a little more and more, and he’s handling it, which is ultimately good for us,” Smith said. “He has a knack and a way of finding the football. Look at the Michigan State game. He had three registered pass breakups and a fourth one on that third down, but the penalty nullified it. That’s a lot of touches for any corner, let alone a true freshman.”
Not that it’s a competition, but Castro-Fields has made more of a mark than fellow freshman Lamont Wade — an early-enrollee, five-star prospect from Clairton.
At least, as a cornerback.
Wade, who has 21 tackles, has been a valuable member of Penn State’s special team units through 10 games. Smith compared his development to Haley, who first shined on special teams as a freshman. Meanwhile, Smith likened Castro-Fields to Reid, “a little more unique, a little more advanced” as a freshman.
That bodes well for Castro-Fields, as he’s primed to carve out a larger role in 2018.
“His knowledge of the game, his knowledge of the position has grown,” Smith said. “His awareness, just kind of getting a feel for the game, knowing when you see certain personnel groups and certain formations, the possibilities of what the offense is going to bring and present to him. He’s getting better and better with that, and making less mental errors, which makes me more comfortable as his position coach.
“He’s got a chance to be really good for us.”
Reid ‘ahead of schedule’
James Franklin said on last week’s Penn State Coaches Show that Reid “could probably play” if the Nittany Lions really needed him at some point this season.
Reid, who reportedly suffered a significant knee injury in spring camp, is “ahead of schedule,” according to his position coach.
“He’s making sure he’s doing the right thing to get himself healthy,” Smith said. “He’s pounding the weight room. He’s bigger, stronger, and he’s going to come back faster than ever. He’s dialed in and locked in.
“He’s the kind of guy you’d recruit 100 out of 100 times.”
“When do we do our big signing day? We’re thinking, because we’ve already got the majority of our class committed to us, that we’ll possibly do the big signing day in December. But that hasn’t been determined yet. That’s the topic of conversation. ... Hopefully all the guys committed to us will sign on the 20th. If they don’t, we’ll keep working hard to get them signed in February.” — Smith, Penn State’s defensive recruiting coordinator, on balancing the new December signing period with February’s traditional event.