They’re called “The Company,” and Grant Haley is the CEO.
This year’s crop of defensive backs discussed what its identity would be in 2016 prior to Penn State football’s fall camp, and the moniker — and style — is what they came up with.
“Some of the older guys had to come together and think of a name,” explained Haley after practice on Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know if you guys watch ‘Prison Break,’ but ‘The Company’ is this organization that just does what they have to do, whatever they’re asked to do.
“We just thought that was what our motto wanted to be. Serious, straight to the point. We’re just going to do our jobs.”
The secondary even posed with position coach Terry Smith as if they were adjusting ties on Penn State’s photo day last week.
“Well, Grant is the CEO of the company,” said Smith, citing the junior corner’s leadership on and off the field. “He can tell you all about it. Each year I reach out to the leaders of the room, and those guys kind of decide these things… ‘The Company’ fits. We are just about business. We have a focus. Our guys like each other in the room and they want to play with each other and for each other.”
A stereotypical defensive back is apt to chatter — to receivers, to running backs, to anyone, really, if it means getting inside their opponent’s heads.
Not the case with Penn State’s secondary according to Smith, who said that other than likely starting safety Marcus Allen’s penchant for dancing, the unit is focused and serious.
“Well, we’re still gonna have our swagger,” said Haley. “Marcus Allen and Malik (Golden) are energy guys, they obviously bring a lot to this team. I think it’s a good mix of guys who are really stable, you know, don’t get too high (and) don’t get too low, and the energy guys.”
The group is highly competitive, and Smith said they are using a “Takeaway King” system to hold accountable a unit that, while plenty athletic (opponents were held to an average of 173.5 passing yards per game last season, No. 8 in the nation), had only six interceptions in 2015 (Penn State’s linebackers and defensive line combined for four more), tied for No. 78 in the country.
“We want to crown the player that has the most takeaways,” said Smith. “We’re encouraging our defense to be able to take the ball away. Up to this point, we’ve touched the ball an awful lot, and that was one of the main goals this season — to get the ball back to our offense.”
The “Takeaway King” can earn incentives like T-shirts if they capitalize in practice. Haley said the secondary has had its hands on the ball much more this fall.
“We haven’t had the turnovers and consistency that we’ve needed to,” said Haley. “I think as a defense and a secondary, we’ve done a huge job on the emphasis of turnovers. …We’ve had a bunch of turnovers this preseason.”
News and Notes
Left tackle lucrative
After announcing last week that veteran lineman Andrew Nelson, who spent all spring at left tackle, would be moving to the right side for fall camp, head coach James Franklin has been apparently rotating a slew of options through the position. Reps have since been observed at left tackle from freshman Connor McGovern, 300-pound redshirt sophomore Noah Beh and redshirt senior Brendan Mahon.
“That’s still something that we have to figure out,” said Franklin. “We still need to resolve that. …Starting to move some parts around right now, but yeah, that’s still an ongoing discussion.
Quarterback ‘battle’ continues
While popular opinion has redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley starting in the fall, Franklin said redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens had indeed “made up some ground” on the former as fall camp has continued.
Still, no official decision has been made.
“It’s hard to say, it really depends on the practice,” said Franklin. “I don’t think we are closer to making a decision than we were before. It’s been a heated battle between (Trace and Tommy). I think Tommy has done some nice things and so has Trace.”
Defensive tackles taking shape
With Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan anchoring the ends, the interior defensive line still remains a mystery.
“That’s still ongoing right now,” said Franklin. “Antoine White has done some nice things so far this camp. Parker (Cothren) has had a lot of reps, we kind of know who he is at this point. And then the rest of them we’re still trying to figure out. Antoine is probably the guy that has jumped out recently.”
Franklin admitted that the staff externally patted redshirt freshman Kevin Givens on the back quite a bit in the spring, but he still has a ways to go in terms of growth and development.
And as for junior college transfer Tyrell Chavis, who arrived on campus last week after narrowly making the academic achievements required for transfer?
“Good, but I mean as you can imagine, he just showed up,” said Franklin. “He wasn’t in the type of shape that the rest of our guys are in where they are here all summer working out with our strength staff. To think a guy is gonna be at Nassau Community College on his own training at the same level our guys are, it’s not even close.”