2019 Penn State Football Preview: Cornerbacks

By Nick Polak on August 21, 2019 at 8:30 am
Oct 13, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback John Reid (29) bats the ball away from Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Brandon Sowards (16) during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State returns one of the top corner duos in the Big Ten, with plenty of talent waiting in the wings.


Last Year

The cornerbacks, similar to the linebackers, had a very up-and-down season in 2018. Amani Oruwariye stepped into a full-time starting role, and while he did provide flash with 3 interceptions and 11 passes defended, he also had his lapses (though for the record, putting him on an island in the closing minutes against Felton Davis is hardly Oruwariye's fault). The senior was solid but certainly left a few plays on the field. Such is the life of a cornerback.

The 2018 season also featured the return of John Reid. He of course missed the entirety of the 2017 season due to a torn ACL, returning to the starting lineup a season ago. While he had plenty of rust to shake off in the early part of the season and was often spelled by youngsters Tariq Casto-Fields and Donovan Johnson, Reid's play picked up significantly over the back half fo the season. By the end of the year, his play resembled that of his 2016 self, which is great news heading into 2019.

Castro-Fields and Johnson both had their moments to shine and moments of growing pains, but the experience both picked up will help them greatly as they move into more featured roles in 2019.

The Starters

No. 29 John Reid (Gr./Sr., 5'10, 181 lbs)

No. 5 Tariq Castro-Fields (Jr./Jr., 6'0, 187 lbs)

No. 3 Donovan Johnson (Jr./So., 5'9, 185 lbs)

I'm choosing to list Johnson as a starter here because he will surely serve as the primary nickelback in addition to being one of the primary backups for Reid and Castro-Fields.

As mentioned at the top, Reid looked more and more like his old self as 2018 wore on, and fans should be excited about what he has to offer in 2019. Once looked at as a potential candidate to declare early for the NFL Draft, Reid is setting out to prove that he still belongs in the league. Don't be surprised if we've yet to see his best.

Castro-Fields, who played as a true freshman, has flashed massive potential each year on campus. With Oruwariye off to the NFL, the time as come for the Maryland-native to step into the spotlight. Castro-Fields is blessed with great size and speed and will give opposing receivers fits.

Johnson was a standout performer in his limited time on the field in 2018. Before suffering an injury against Illinois, the speedster from Detroit was showing what made him a sought-after prospect. His play should only continue to improve, and he will play a vital role in shutting down the various shifty slot receivers the Big Ten has to offer.

The Backups

No. 24 DJ Brown (Jr./So., 5'10, 183 lbs)

No. 2 Keaton Ellis (Fr./Fr., 5'11, 190 lbs)

No. 19 Trent Gordon (So./Fr., 5'11, 188 lbs)

As always Penn State will have numerous intriguing young players backing up the secondary. The Nittany Lions have been on a streak when it comes to finding young cornerbacks to contribute very early in their careers, and 2019 will be no different.

DJ Brown has yet to see any significant action in his first two years, but has the opportunity to change that this year. He has consistently been a player named by coaches as a practice field standout. The 2019 season will be his first real chance to make good on that hype.

Keaton Ellis looks to be the next true freshman to make an impact in the secondary, and reports of his play have been glowing from day one. The State College High standout was lauded for his supreme athleticism coming out of high school, and he's been able to translate that into success this offseason. When you also factor in that he's gotten his weight up to a solid 190 pounds, plus arriving on campus in January, he will have every chance to make an impact in 2019.

Gordon also figures to be part of the rotation as a redshirt freshman. Like Brown, the Texas-native was a consistent force on the practice field, and has a path to solid playing time this season. 

The Reserves

No. 8 Marquis Wilson (Fr./Fr., 5'11, 173 lbs)

No. 9 Joey Porter Jr (Fr./Fr., 6'2, 180 lbs)

No. 25 Daequan Hardy (Fr./Fr., 5'9, 170 lbs)

The rest of the true freshman class will make the reserve group. Just because they look to be in line for redshirts, or mostly special teams work if they do burn those redshirts, don't be surprised to see them each get a chance to show what they can do in limited spurts during non-conference play.

And mark my words, Daequan Hardy is going to be a star. Remember who told you that.

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