John Butler had been a little frustrated last season.
As Penn State’s new secondary coach, Butler and the rest of the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff weren’t comfortable running a traditional nickel package because they didn’t have a fifth defensive back good enough to replace a linebacker.
Now the team’s defensive coordinator, Butler has some reinforcements in the secondary. And some flexibility.
At the forefront is top defensive back Adrian Amos, who can line up pretty much anywhere without much issue. He’ll start at safety in Saturday’s opener against Syracuse but will still make cameos at cornerback, where he spent most of his time during his first two seasons.
“Physically, he has all the skills,” Butler said. “He can play man. He can play zone. He can play on the second level. He can tackle. When we look at a DB, we want a guy who can play man coverage, who can tackle and has ball skills. And if you have those things, you can play safety or corner.
“He possesses them. He’s not only good at those things, he excels at them. He’s a guy we can put in different spots. That’s why he’s a good player.”
With seniors Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, and junior Ryan Keiser also splitting time at safety, it gives the Lions some more options for their nickel, possibly with Amos back at corner.
Last season, the Lions used what they called a “roadrunner” or “big nickel” package on passing downs, with the speedy Mike Hull subbing in for Glenn Carson at linebacker and Amos moving back to safety.
This year, the situation appears reversed. Linebacker depth is thinner while the secondary got reinforcements like Trevor Williams, who moves from receiver to a starting corner.
“This was not a rash move,” Butler said. “We discussed it and looked at it for a long period of time, how we could make the roster more efficient. When it came time to do it, we gave him the option and he accepted.
“He wanted to helped the team and I think that says a lot about him.”
Williams and fellow sophomore Jordan Lucas are the new starting corners for Butler this year, and Butler is anxious to see them take their first true test on Saturday.
“Obviously, I’m cautiously optimistic,” Butler said. “When 80,000 people are watching you play, it is a little different than practice
“They both are physically the prototype of what we are looking for at that position. They are 6-foot. They have long arms. They have good speed. They’re physical enough. So, with both of those guys, they’re going to just keep getting better. I’d like to say they’re going to play great on Saturday.”
More on the QB situation
Naturally, Bill O’Brien kept his same stance and did not name his starting quarterback when he showed up for his weekly radio show in State College on Thurday. But the Lions coach did elaborate a bit on the situation during the program.
While both Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson will play against the Orange, O’Brien stressed that it will not be part of a rotation. The starter, he said, will take the majority of snaps in the game.
As suspected, O’Brien said the quarterbacks both know who will start, as does the team as a whole.
The goal, O’Brien said, was to minimize the distractions for his young signal-callers during their first week of preparation and classes for the semester.
“If I announced a starter, everyone would just be on this guy,” O’Brien said. “There’d be interviews and everything. Let’s let this guy concentrate on getting off to a good start academically.
“That was one of the major parts of the decision. It’s not life or death.”
O’Brien did say he is confident that both players can run the offense effectively at any point during the game.
Their progress during training camp, he said, has been a pleasant surprise.
“When you bring new guys in, you don’t know what to expect,” O’Brien said. “It’s not like the (NFL) draft. When you’re recruiting, you talk about football, yeah, but you don’t have time to sit down and see all what they know.
“But I’ve been impressed with their knowledge. Now, they’ve had their share of mistakes. But at the same time, they’ve improved everyday. We’re really lucky to have these two kids. And hopefully you’ll see that on Saturday.”