2017 Spring Position Preview: A Wide Open Competition Next to Marcus Allen

By Dan Smith on March 17, 2017 at 9:30 am
Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Monty Madaris (88) drops a pass after being hit by Penn State Nittany Lions safety Marcus Allen (2) during the third quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan State 45-12.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Positional Breakdown
Name 2017 Eligibility 2016 Role Likely 2017 Role Pedigree
Marcus Allen Sr Starter Starter ★★★ (0.8877)
Troy Apke Sr First Backup Possible Starter ★★★ (0.8848)
Nick Scott rJr Special Teamer Possible Starter ★★★ (0.8634)
Ayron Monroe rSo Special Teamer Possible Starter ★★★ (0.8635)
John Petrishen rSo Did Not Play Backup ★★★ (0.8464)
Jonathan Sutherland Fr - Redshirt ★★★★ (0.8992)

Expected Starters

Marcus Allen is a lock to start barring an injury that keeps him out of the lineup. He will be playing in 2017 as the most experienced and talented safety on the Penn State roster. After flirting with the NFL after last season, he will be looked at as a possible NFL Draft prospect for the 2018 class. There is no expected starter next to him at this time, as the rest is totally up in the air.

Expected Backups

Apke could be the top backup again in 2017, as his best role seems to be primarily on special teams, occasionally spelling the starters. He had his struggles at safety in 2016. Monroe should be in the mix if healthy, as he has the talent to be a contributor down the line. Scott will have been on the defensive side of the ball for over a year heading into this season and should be ready to contribute in a way his inexperience at the position prevented him from last season. Petrishen has never been healthy and remains an unknown until he can get regular reps in practice. Sutherland is a likely redshirt candidate in 2017.

Battle to Watch

It should already be abundantly clear that the battle to watch at this spot is the starting safety opposite Marcus Allen. Troy Apke returns with the most experience, but hold off on the comparisons to Malik Golden's ascendance as a senior. Golden played over half of the available snaps at safety as a junior before solidifying himself as a starter in 2016. Apke's played far less at safety, and his time there has not to this point in his career passed the eye test. If he is starting at safety in 2017, it is because no one else stepped up.

Nick Scott will be a redshirt junior in his second season playing defense. He was excellent on special teams last season, and the hope would be that his skill translates to safety after more than a year of learning Brent Pry's defense. Meanwhile, Ayron Monroe hopes to emerge as an option in his redshirt sophomore season. A fully healthy spring and summer would go a long way in his development, and if everything breaks right he could be in the mix to start as well.

Expected Results

Allen is an excellent run defender from the safety position who will aid in coming up to hit running backs. He is also a playmaker who can force fumbles. That said, he has his issues in coverage, too often overplaying in one direction and getting beat behind him. He will need to get that cleaned up, both as a senior leader for the 2017 team and for his future as a pro prospect.

There are no real expectations for the rest heading into 2017. It truly is an almost total unknown.

Looking to the Future

Allen and Apke are both gone after 2017. That leaves the current group of Scott, Monroe, Petrishen, Sutherland, and then 2018 recruit Isaiah Humphries. There is some talent there, but you can understand the temptation to balance things out by moving a corner or two to safety. There is a lot of potential for guys like Monroe, Sutherland, and Humphries, but the future for Penn State at safety will not be left to just three guys. Expect some changes in the next 12 months to give more opportunities at safety.

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