Penn State Nittany Lions: Anthony Smith

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We’ve finally reached the end of this week’s countdown involving the top position battles to watch this spring.

Up next is a position that caused a lot of head scratching last season ...

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAYJordan Lucas seems set at one corner for Penn State, but the other starter is anyone's guess at this point.
No. 1 position battle: Cornerback

Departures: None

Returning players: Jordan Lucas (65 tackles, 16 pass deflections, 3 INTs), Trevor Williams (24 tackles, 2 INTs), Da'Quan Davis (5 tackles), Anthony Smith (1 tackle), Jordan Smith (5 tackles), Kasey Gaines (redshirted), Grant Haley (incoming freshman), Amani Oruwariye (incoming freshman), Daquan Worley (incoming freshman)

Breaking it down: There are other defensive backs who could slide over from safety -- such as Adrian Amos and Jesse Della Valle -- but, right now, it looks as if cornerback is the position with the question marks. Lucas will take up one starting spot. But the other? At this point, you might as well just throw the names in a hat and pick one out.

Back in 2012, Davis started the season as the No. 3 cornerback before fizzling out and seeing less time as the season progressed. He played in 11 games as a true freshman and just six as a sophomore. In 2013, Williams began the season as a starter before fizzling out and watching Amos move from safety to reclaim his spot. It sure seems like it’s time to write Davis off as a starter, but is it too early to write Williams off? If Williams, who switched positions from receiver last season, can’t bounce back, then this position truly gets interesting. It seems as if Jordan Smith would be next in line since he’s quickly earned a reputation as a hard worker.

Then again, Smith’s work could all be for naught. There are several incoming freshmen who could challenge for immediate playing time -- including safety Christian Campbell, who could also play corner -- once they arrive over the summer. This position battle might not be totally decided in the spring, but it should go a long way in answering some of the biggest questions on the defense.

Pre-camp edge: None. That’s right -- no one has an edge right now. That’s a big reason why this battle is the top spot on the countdown. This is one starting spot that’s ripe for the taking. The players who have seen the most time (Davis, Williams) haven’t played well, and there’s really no strong way to gauge the others since they’ve seen so little time. Williams might be in the best shape right now, but Jordan Smith should be right behind him. At this point, it seems as if those two corners might be the ones to keep a close eye on this spring ... but anything can happen at corner.

More position battles to watch:

No. 5: Kicker
No. 4: Tight end
No. 3: Defensive tackle
No. 2: Offensive guard/center

PSU position preview: Cornerbacks

August, 16, 2013
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As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Cornerbacks.

Projected starters: Trevor Williams (2012 stats, as WR: 10 receptions, 97 yards; four kick returns, 79 yards) and Jordan Lucas (one tackle).

Key losses: Stephon Morris (60 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, five pass deflections)

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Davis
Vinny Carchietta/Icon SMIDa'Quan Davis is still a bit undersized, but he has experience and is currently the No. 3 corner.
Next in line: Sophomore Da'Quan Davis played in 11 games last year but saw limited time as a cornerback. Still, he stepped up when Morris suffered an injury -- and he likely will be called upon more in 2013. He's the No. 3 corner right now.

Davis gained only three pounds in a year's time and remains undersized at 5-foot-10, 164 pounds. Still, cornerback-turned-safety Adrian Amos could always step back into the position if he's needed. Other players vying for time include true freshmen Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith, who both enrolled early.

What to expect: Neither starter saw any significant time at cornerback last season -- Williams was a wideout, after all -- but the Nittany Lions seem more confident at the position this season. For one, they moved Amos to his natural position of safety, despite returning both starters there ... which they wouldn't have done if defensive coordinator John Butler viewed corner as a weakness.

Williams made tremendous strides over the offseason at cornerback, and the staff has complimented Lucas since he stepped on campus. Replacing Morris' speed will be no easy task, but the new starters at least have size on their side as they're both at least 6-feet tall. (Lucas is 6-0; Williams is 6-1).

Williams' experience at wideout should help him grab interceptions, something this secondary sorely lacked last season. (The secondary, as a whole, finished with only three picks on the season. Linebacker Michael Mauti had three himself.) Lucas, on the other hand, is more polished, and scouts have said he shows a good burst to recover. The two new starters are obviously wildcards, since they really haven't seen B1G competition as cornerbacks, but there's enough potential here to allay fans' concern.

Recruiting trail: Butler was adamant that he wasn't very pleased with the depth he inherited last season, so he spent the 2013 class -- and, now, the 2014 class -- to restock.

The Nittany Lions already grabbed two CB commits in four-star athlete Troy Vincent Jr. (Baltimore/Gilman) and three-star prospect Daquan Worley (Coatesville, Pa./Coatesville). But they're not done just yet.

The Lions continue to go after ESPN 300 athlete Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), who's one of their top remaining priorities in this class. PSU has a good shot here, but WVU likely still holds the slight edge right now.

Looking ahead, PSU is hoping to grab ESPN Junior 300 CB Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter's) in the 2015 class. And fellow 2015 prospect Kareem Ali Jr. (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek Regional) is very high on PSU and could be the first commit of the class.

Best-case scenario: Williams is able add a few interceptions to the secondary this season, and Lucas shows that he'll be a solid three-year starter for PSU. Amos is able to stay at safety because the corners hold their own, and they boast an above-average season that paves the way for a brighter future.

Worst-case scenario: Bill O'Brien said last year that, sometimes, you don't know what you have until you see your team in action -- and the group struggles against Syracuse. Williams shows potential but is caught out of position for long gains and is targeted by the offense. Amos is forced to move back to cornerback at some point, and the secondary shows no progress from last season.

Top position question: Can this group be better than last year? Let's not dance around this question. The answer's yes.

There's enough depth here that Butler can get creative if something happens, and most importantly -- because of the added experience at safety -- PSU should play even more aggressive man coverage this season. Lucas and Williams will be put more in position to succeed, and they should be able to top last year's measly two interceptions by the corners.

The secondary was the big question of the year entering 2012, and it slightly outperformed low expectations after a bumpy start. If the secondary as a whole can stop those long third-down conversions in the opener, it'll go a long way in showing this group can have a successful season.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Saturday's annual scrimmage, known as the Blue-White Game, will offer fans a nice reprieve as they wait more than 20 weeks for the college season to kick off.

Saturday will be the first time most of last season's freshmen will play in front of a crowd, the first time fans can size up the quarterback race and the first time the media can see the progress this team has made over the spring.

The Blue-White weekend has taken on a carnival-type atmosphere these past few years, and there's plenty to see. But on the field, NittanyNation takes a closer look on what fans should keep an especially close eye on.

QUARTERBACK RACE

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
Tom Hauck for ESPNTyler Ferguson and Steven Bench are side by side in Penn State's quarterback competition this spring.
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Steven Bench threw just eight passes last season, and the media has seen little of Tyler Ferguson. Both quarterbacks have been lauded for their ability to scramble -- Stephon Morris said he probably wouldn't even label Bench as a pocket passer -- but both are basically a mystery. Can Bench guide this offense? Will Ferguson outshine him? Saturday's scrimmage is far from the be-all, end-all, but it is a start to answering some of those questions.

Bill O'Brien said in the past no quarterback separated himself yet. Maybe, just maybe, someone will gain an edge Saturday.

BRING ON THE MAN COVERAGE

Defensive coordinator John Butler acknowledged last season that PSU couldn't play be as aggressive in the secondary because of the depth. But that is improved this season. Jordan Smith and Anthony Smith enrolled early, while wideouts Malik Golden and Trevor Williams switched to defensive back.

PSU began practicing the nickel this spring, and fans can expect finally to see that package this season. There's no telling who might start alongside Adrian Amos come August -- Jordan Lucas is currently practicing with the first team -- and fans should keep an eye on the young corners here.

PROJECTED (RS) FRESHMAN STARTERS

DT Austin Johnson and LB Nyeem Wartman are just redshirt freshmen, but it already looks as if they'll crack the starting lineup this season. Both very well could wind up as the rare four-year PSU starter, and expectations are high for these two.

Johnson already is up to 302 pounds, and O'Brien has praised his ability since he was asked about his top freshmen last season. And the hard-hitting Wartman, whom PSU fans already are familiar with, blocked a punt in his PSU debut before an injury in Week 2 that sidelined him for the season (and allowed him to pick up a medical redshirt). With the departures of Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges, Wartman will have to play well right off the bat for PSU to remain strong here. One recruit said he was especially impressed watching No. 5, because he was all over the field during one practice. Let's see what they can do in a scrimmage.

(Also, Akeel Lynch and Eugene Lewis might not be starters ... but is there anyone who doesn't plan to keep a close eye on them?)

HOW MUCH BETTER HAVE THE BEST GOTTEN?

Practice observers and teammates have pointed constantly to Allen Robinson when asked who has impressed so far this spring. He broke the single-season school record for receptions last season, and he has gained needed weight while maintaining his speed. Robinson was the best in the Big Ten last year, and now he's even better. That's hard to picture on the field.

Mike Hull, Deion Barnes, Zach Zwinak, Amos, etc. all have earned a lot of praise this spring. Zwinak has improved his strength, Barnes is shoring up his run-stopping, Hull is embracing a starting role ... and Amos? Well, he's probably PSU's most versatile player. Returner, safety, cornerback -- he can do everything. And it'll be interesting to see just how much he does Saturday.

TIGHT END U?

It's pretty incredible just how much this position has evolved in about 15 months. Kyle Carter won't play in the Blue-White Game, but fans still will be able to look at Matt Lehman, Jesse James and Brent Wilkerson.

MLB Glenn Carson mentioned James as the player who has impressed him the most overall. He broke out during Carter's absence late in the year, and he boasts good speed for a 6-foot-7 target. James has "red-zone target" written all over him, and it'll be interesting to see how this young corps does in the scrimmage. It'll be an even bigger bonus if Adam Breneman is able to play.
Penn State has signed larger and more decorated recruiting classes than the 2013 version, and brought in more big names. But the program has never faced NCAA sanctions, including scholarship reductions and postseason probation. Under the circumstances, the 17-member recruiting class PSU signed Wednesday might be one of the most impressive in team history. Penn State brought in star power like quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, retained most of its top recruits and addressed several needs. Head coach Bill O'Brien and his assistants have received a lot of praise for their first recruiting class of the sanction era, and deservedly so.

ESPN.com caught up with O'Brien on Wednesday to discuss the class.

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NittanyNation signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
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Signing day has gone smoothly in Happy Valley.

Here's a recap of how the letters of intent came in and how the class came together in Penn State's Class of 2013.

Follow the live blog after the jump.

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Overview of Penn State's Class of 2013 

February, 6, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With Penn State's fax machine whirring early Wednesday morning, NittanyNation takes an overall look at the expected recruiting class.

From top players to sleepers, misses and everything in-between, there's a lot going on in this class:

Who they got: Penn State looks as if it will sign 17 players this class, including the five who have already enrolled. The headliners are ESPN's No. 1 QB in Christian Hackenberg and No. 1 TE in Adam Breneman, who have helped bring the same kind of excitement to this class as Derrick Williams and Justin King in 2005. Penn State turned in a quality offensive group, with four-star prospects also at offensive guard (Brendan Mahon), offensive tackle (Andrew Nelson) and wideout (DaeSean Hamilton).

A look at Penn State's incoming QB recruits 

January, 30, 2013
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Christian HackenbergCourtesy of Charles Thomas/Fork UnionWith size and arm ability, Christian Hackenberg will be groomed as Penn State's QB of the future.

Two months ago, Penn State had just one committed quarterback -- and that seemed like a pressing issue that might take a while to resolve. With just one QB officially on the roster in Steven Bench, depth was obviously a concern.

Well, it certainly isn't anymore. Bill O'Brien garnered commitments from five players who'll compete at quarterback. And he also convinced four other players -- who were the starting quarterbacks on their respective teams -- to play at other positions at Penn State.

NittanyNation takes a closer look at all these signal-callers:

QUARTERBACKS WHO WILL STAY QBs

Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Stats: Passing -- 156-of-291; 2,144 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs. Rushing -- 89 carries, 436 yards, 3 TDs.
Status: Committed (scholarship)

Synopsis: He's the top-rated high school quarterback in the nation. He can make all the throws, has a great arm, and his potential is endless. He just needs to familiarize himself with the playbook and better learn to read defenses. Opposing coaches said he had difficulty picking up disguised coverages and blitzes. He's obviously Penn State's quarterback of the future.


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Signing day primer: Penn State 

January, 23, 2013
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With two weeks left until signing day, NittanyNation takes a closer look at what fans should know about the state of the class and this Penn State team.

Team needs: Defensive coordinator John Butler made it clear he wasn't happy with the secondary's depth last season. At cornerback, untested true freshman Da'Quan Davis was the backup, and the safeties opened the year as the team's weakness.

That's not the only concern. With Matt McGloin's departure, Steven Bench is now the most experienced quarterback on the team. And he threw just eight passes last season. Linebacker is also a position that could use a few extra bodies, especially with Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges making a run at the NFL.

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Lions spotlight: Anthony Smith 

January, 15, 2013
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Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Cornerback Anthony Smith, Randolph, N.J./Valley Forge Military, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds

Committed: Dec. 9, 2012

ESPN.com grade: 67; Two-star prospect


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Overview of PSU's five early enrollees 

January, 7, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Five Penn State commits started classes today as early enrollees, and NittanyNation takes a closer look at each student ready to start his Penn State career:

TE Adam Breneman, Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff
Four stars, No. 1 at position
Synopsis: The nation's top TE followed in the footsteps of former Cedar Cliff tight end Kyle Brady, committing to Penn State on March 9 (thanks to Bill O'Brien's philosophy on tight ends) and plans to wear Brady's No. 81. He's set big goals for himself, including a Big Ten title and winning the Mackey Award at some point in his career.

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5 Questions: PSU commit Anthony Smith 

January, 4, 2013
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Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is Penn State commit Anthony Smith, a postgraduate cornerback who is enrolling early and will start class next week. Smith committed to PSU on Dec. 9, a day after receiving a scholarship offer during his official visit.

NittanyNation: What's been your reaction to Gov. Tom Corbett bringing the lawsuit against the NCAA? And what's the sanction you would most want to see go away?

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NittanyNation Friday mailbag 

December, 28, 2012
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Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions this week, and we've selected three to answer in-depth -- starting with the question we received most.

Cody Harsomchuck (@chuck_15) writes: Chances Jonathan Walton decommits?

Josh Moyer: Honestly, if you asked me two weeks ago who I thought was most likely to decommit, I would have picked the three-star linebacker. Ideally, Walton wanted to play in the South, but Penn State was his lone BCS offer and was after him since early in the summer. He liked the fact he was a Plan-A linebacker over at Linebacker U.

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Penn State's 2013 class: 5 things to know 

December, 23, 2012
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There's still about 44 days left for PSU to pick up two more players for the Class of 2013, but there's already some things we know about this group.

NittanyNation takes a look at five things that have already come into focus here:

Adam Breneman
Josh Moyer/ESPN.comAdam Breneman, the nation's No. 1 tight end, is part of a talented Penn State offensive nucleus in the Class of 2013.
1. The future for this offense is bright. If ESPN's No.1-rated passer, Christian Hackenberg, was the only offensive prospect in this class, that statement might still be accurate. But throw in the nation's No. 1 TE in Adam Breneman, the No. 10 OG in Brendan Mahon and the No. 18 OT in Andrew Nelson -- and that's the best combination in the Big Ten.

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5 Questions: PSU commit Anthony Smith 

December, 14, 2012
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Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is 2013 Penn State commit Anthony Smith, a cornerback out of Wayne (Pa.) Valley Forge Military who will enroll early and still boasts four years of eligibility. The postgraduate student received a scholarship offer Saturday during an official visit and committed Sunday.

Penn State was Smith's one and only FBS offer, and he will be given every chance to contribute immediately.

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NittanyNation Friday mailbag

December, 14, 2012
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Welcome to NittanyNation's first-ever mailbag! We asked you to tweet your questions this week, and we've selected three to answer in-depth -- starting with the question we received most.

Brian Wess (@bwessfootball) writes: What's Penn State's next move for a quarterback? Tyler Ferguson?

Josh Moyer: You hit the nail right on the head, Brian. I spoke with Ferguson and his junior college coach briefly Thursday, and that's exactly what's at play here. Penn State made it clear Jake Waters was Plan A. When that fell through, the staff contacted Ferguson and offered him a scholarship as their Plan B.

Ferguson said he'll commit to a school at some point this morning. He's on the West Coast, though, and plays for Bakersfield (Calif.) College of the Sequioias, so it could still be a few hours. At this point, though, it's pretty clear that Penn State is Ferguson's top choice. Houston already has three quarterbacks as part of its 2013 class, while PSU has just one scholarship QB for the spring. You do the math.

Ferguson's addition would help PSU -- but he's no Waters. Iowa Western's QB threw one interception for every 111 attempts; Ferguson one for every 29 attempts. Steven Bench had a head start against Waters in learning Penn State's pro-style offense, but Bench has to be considered a much higher favorite to start in 2013 now that another quarterback -- likely Ferguson -- is coming on instead.

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