March 5, 2010

Blue-White Countdown 2010: Defensive Backs (updated 3/25)

Previous entries...
1: Special Teams
We continue our weekly countdown to the 2010 Blue-White Game. In today's edition, we'll take a look at a rather unsettled situation in the defensive backfield, as injuries and position shifting could shake things up by the time spring practice concludes on April 24 in Beaver Stadium. Over the next six weeks, I'll walk through all the major positions, trying to give the most reasoned explanation of who we could see come out big, and why.


The biggest story this winter/spring--next to recruiting--was D'Anton Lynn's status with the team. One minute he was ready to transfer; the next, it was all just wild rumor. This past week, he apparently told a bunch of reporters from a bunch of different outlets that he was at Penn State to play football, and that's where he'll stay. Good. But now what about the problems that sparked all these rumors, like that there has been an ongoing spat between Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley as to where Lynn will play, safety or corner? Right now, since there has been no official word (read: sourced reporting) that Lynn will move to safety, we here at will consider him a corner. It's also my personal feeling that he is best suited to play on the outside, where he did a fantastic job in 2009.

The other corner spot might end up being the most clear-cut of all the defensive back positions this spring, as true sophomore Stephon Morris is the odds-on favorite to capture the starting job. Morris played great as the situational third corner last season, eventually earning his first start against Michigan State (A.J. Wallace was out injured). The true frosh even finished the year 12th on the team in tackles (30 total), with an interception against Illinois. Morris might not be huge, but he's a guy who can "make some plays," as Paterno likes to say.

Behind Morris and Lynn, it's going to be a very open race for playing time by the other cornerbacks and all-purpose defensive backs. Remember, Penn State likes to insert a third safety into its nickel packages, rather than the traditional third corner. So there are plenty of guys listed on the chart below as just "DB," indicating that a set position hasn't been determined or even suggested.

High School
8 D' Anton Lynn CB JR 6-1/190 Celina, Texas/Celina Butch Ford
12 Evan Lewis DB rFR 5-10/175 Gettysburg, Pa./Gettysburg Sam Leedy
12 Stephon Morris CB SO 5-8/182 Greenbelt, Md./Eleanor Roosevelt Tom Green
14 Mike Wallace DB rFR 5-9/182 Silver Springs, Md./Good Counsel Bob Milloy
16 Shelton McCullough CB rSR 6-0/193 Randallstown, Md./Randallstown Albert Howard
23 Stephen Obeng-Agyapong DB rFR 5-10/186 Bronx, N.Y./John F. Kennedy Alex Vega
24 Malcolm Willis DB rFR 5-10/221 Marbury, Md./Lackey Doug Lamb
25 Derrick Thomas DB rFR 6-0/174 Greenbelt, Md./Eleanor Roosevelt Tom Green
27 Jacob Fagnano DB rSO 6-0/201 Williamsport, Pa./Williamsport Tom Gravish
35 Jesse Alfreno CB rSR 5-11/194 Grove City, Pa./Grove City Jeff Bell
00 Shyquawn Pullium DB FR
Erie, Pa./Cathedral Prep

The word around the team is that Derrick Thomas is the favorite to grab the third cornerback position this spring, with Mike Wallace, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong as the others contending for some playing time for the second team. Thomas has the best height of the four, but I wouldn't be surprised to see all four guys seeing the field in 2010. They all redshirted last season, which was one of the best moves this coaching staff could have done. The two seniors, Jesse Alfreno and Shelton McCullough, will see time just because they are seniors; but don't expect much more than what you'll see at the Blue-White Game next month. The 2009 recruiting class was extremely DB-heavy. Now with these good young players coming up, Penn State will have the best crop of defensive back talent we've seen in years, if not decades.


There have been some question marks around the safety position, just like the cornerback spot. But the safety problems have much to do with injuries than just personnel shifts. Drew Astorino is still recovering from a Janurary shoulder surgery, and will miss all of spring practice. This isn't terrible news. Penn State knows Astorino can play safety, so this time will be great for younger players to get time running with the first team defense. The leading candidates, from what we saw in 2009, are senior Cedric Jeffries and junior Andrew Dailey. Jeffries finished last season with 12 tackles, while Dailey had six. They led all non-starting safeties.

Jeffries might actually be the leading candidate to take over for Astorino this spring. In his first career start, Jeffries teamed up with Navorro Bowman to bring down Minnesota's Kevin Whaley on a fourth down goal line stand, preserving the 20-0 homecoming shutout. It should definitely be a hard-fought battle for Astorino's position, between Dailey and Jeffries.

I still have Gerald Hodges listed as a safety, since that is his natural position. But I will also include him in next week's breakdown of the linebackers. For now, let's assume the Hodges-to-linebacker thing doesn't work this spring, and he stays at safety. Hodges saw action in 11 games last season, finishing with three tackles. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Hodges has blazing speed and the strength to match. You can understand why the staff wants to see him at linebacker; but don't you think Tom Bradley is just itching to develop him as a safety.

One player not listed below is Shawney Kersey--currently and officially a wide receiver. Don't be shocked if that changes by the fall, or even the end of spring practice. Kersey has great speed, fast enough to play even corner if the need arises. There has been a ton of speculation around where Kersey will play this year, as the coaching staff really wants to get him on the field in any way it can. The emergence of a very solid receiver corps has kind of put a damper on Kersey's chances to play much on offense, which leads us to believe a switch will be made sometime before the season starts. Until then, however, I can't shift him just because of a hunch.

High School
6 Gerald Hodges S SO 6-2/220 Paulsboro, NJ/Paulsboro Glenn Howard
7 Cedric Jeffries S rSR 6-2/205 Egg Harbor Township, N.J./Egg Harbor Twp. Tony DeRosa
13 Andrew Dailey S rJR 6-2/217 Massillon, Ohio/Washington Tom Stacy
18 Nick Sukay S rJR 6-1/213 Mt. Pleasant, Pa./Greensburg Central Catholic Wlliam Colosimo
28 Drew Astorino S JR 5-10/194 Edinboro, Pa./General McLane Jim Wells
36 Kyle Johnson S rJR 6-0/192 Landenberg, Pa./Avon Grove C.J. Hoffman
38 Tyler Ahrenhold S rJR 6-0/175 Blue Bell, Pa./Chestnut Hill Academy Richard Knox
46 Stephen Joseph S rJR 6-0/184 Factoryville, Pa./Lackawanna Trail Jeff Wasilchak

3/25 Story Update: It looks like Lynn will move to safety, while receiver/former-safety Chaz Powell will move back into the secondary. This could be more due to Drew Astorino's injury than anything else, but it's a significant move by Tom Bradley and Joe Paterno.

Next week: Linebackers

Follow LBU on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to by Email


  1. Cedric Jeffries is still on the team? He's gotta be in his 8th year of eligibility or something.

  2. If he wasn't on the team, Minnesota would've scored, preventing the shutout. He gives the secondary a huge boost in depth and experience this year.