Penn State secondary feels it has something to prove

Coach Bill O'Brien makes a point to cornerback Stephon Morris. "We're going to be OK," Morris said. GENE J. PUSKAR / Associated Press
Coach Bill O'Brien makes a point to cornerback Stephon Morris. "We're going to be OK," Morris said. GENE J. PUSKAR / Associated Press
Posted: September 01, 2012

The Penn State secondary lost all four starters from 2011, plus two reserves who figured to play this season, leaving the unit thin, young, and green.

That has left many citizens of Nittany Nation losing sleep entering Saturday's season opener against Ohio. After hearing those concerns, however, senior cornerback Stephon Morris has this message:

Relax.

"People have opinions, and we haven't shown them anything yet," Morris said earlier this week. "But I think they should just relax, you know? We plan to go out there on Saturday and other games just to show how hard we've been working, how close we have become as a secondary. Basically, everyone should relax. We're going to be OK."

The 5-foot-8, 186-pound Morris is the veteran of the bunch with 13 career starts but only two last season. Redshirt junior safety Malcolm Willis has six starts, but all came in 2010. Sophomore corner Adrian Amos, who also can play safety, started one game in 2011. Jake Fagnano and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong are battling to make their first career start at the other safety spot.

They are replacing four senior starters - Drew Astorino, Nick Sukay, Chaz Powell, and D'Anton Lynn. The Lions lost two candidates for starting jobs in Derrick Thomas, who left the team, and West Catholic's Curtis Drake, who was dismissed by head coach Bill O'Brien.

With a lack of experienced depth, the Nittany Lions need to avoid injuries in the defensive backfield at all costs. Morris, Willis, Amos, and Fagnano sat out practices in preseason with injuries; all are expected to play Saturday.

For now, O'Brien seems pleased with what he sees from a unit tutored by secondary coach John Butler, a La Salle High School graduate.

"I feel good about the secondary," O'Brien said. "Just like everybody else, we've got to go out and play and play well. They're being very well-coached by John Butler. He's a very detailed coach and has done a heck of a job with these guys. We've got some younger guys that have come in and really improved, and I think they can help us."

Two true freshman corners, Da'Quan Davis and Jordan Lucas, are part of that mix.

Morris almost wasn't a part of this. He thought about leaving at the end of last season after Joe Paterno cut his playing time and kept him home from a road trip to Northwestern even though all indications showed he was healthy.

However, from being "pretty much out the door" following Paterno's firing in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Morris had a change of heart after Penn State hired O'Brien, even through the harsh NCAA sanctions that were handed down on July 23.

"Since he's been here, I've been committed," Morris said. "Even with the things that happened, I never thought about leaving or anything like that. It never crossed my mind.

"I just trusted [O'Brien]. I trusted his staff. I trusted everyone he brought on board. At the same time, it was also about my teammates. I wanted to play with this great senior class and help the community, especially with this being my last year."

Morris said he is looking forward to playing a new defensive style that will see a lot of man-to-man coverage, something rarely seen in the defenses of Tom Bradley over the years. He called it "a defense I feel comfortable in."

Most of all, Morris and his colleagues in the secondary feel they have something to prove.

"We definitely feel like we're not the weak links," he said. "But we just want everybody to relax. We're getting ready to go out there and show everybody how hard we've been working."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/sports/lioneyes

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