Penn State Football

Penn State football: Nittany Lion defensive backs cashing in with blitzes

For a self-described lover of music, it’s easy for Jordan Lucas to keep a beat.

And he’s learned timing is crucial on the football field. Lately, he and fellow cornerback Adrian Amos have taken advantage of their ability to keep a certain rhythm about their approach to blitzing. Both players, along with linebackers Glenn Carson and Mike Hull, have been used to stiffen Penn State’s pass rush this season, and each has had a hand in on multiple sacks.

Each has had to learn the nuances of what is really an art form, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said.

“There is just a lot that goes into blitzing,” O’Brien said. “The best blitzers I’ve been around at New England, Tedy Bruschi was a great blitzer because he would get on the edge of a blocker and fake them one way and get on the edge the other way. That’s what you’re trying to do.”

A slew of factors must be considered every time a player is given free reign to blitz.

“Coach Butler has done a great job this year with making different calls and changing up the looks so a team doesn’t really know where we’re coming from, which side or whether we’re coming up the middle, outside or anything like that,” safety Malcolm Willis said.

For a defensive back, a quick identification of the opposing receivers in formation is necessary to determine who, if anyone, may be left uncovered. Alignment is key for a player looking to cut a shortcut around a would-be blocker. Discipline is crucial as players must realize when to show blitz and follow through or to show the threat of blitz and drop into coverage.

But once a blitz has been green lit, timing is everything. Should Amos or Lucas give up their intentions too soon most experienced quarterbacks will be tipped off. They’ll counter with a quick throw or by moving away from the pressure right off the snap. Should Amos or Lucas get a late start off the ball they may never get to the ball carrier in the first place.

“You have to get a feel for it and once you get that down pat, everything else is a full go,” Lucas said. “You don’t have to second guess yourself and just go and try to make a play on the quarterback or the running back.”

Lucas has been Penn State’s most active blitzer among defensive backs.

He teamed up with Mike Hull to bring down Nate Sudfeld for a third-quarter sack in Penn State’s loss to Indiana. He added his first career sack when he and Deion Barnes sandwiched Colin Reardon during a win against Kent State.

Since Amos moved back to cornerback he’s also gotten involved in his team’s pass rush. He zipped to Purdue’s Danny Etling on a straight line around the left edge to earn his first sack of the day on Saturday. He added a similar blitz for a sack in the fourth quarter.

“We play best when we’re playing aggressive each play, each position, just going and reacting to what you see,” Amos said.

That doesn’t just apply to blitzing.

Amos and Lucas want to play downhill and help their front seven slow down Nebraska’s rushing offense. The Cornhuskers are putting up 240 rushing yards per game and bring a physical offensive line that paves the way for running backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross.

Abdullah leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1,336 yards and seven touchdowns on 206 carries. Cross has been effective in short yardage and goal line situations and leads the team with 10 touchdowns.

“He’s a very important part to their offense seeing as how Taylor Martinez won’t be playing,” Lucas said of Abdullah. “We have to pay attention to him as much as everyone else. It’s just very important that we take something away in their game. Something that they like to do, it’s very important that we take it away and that we play disciplined football.”