Big Ten: Anthony Scirrotto


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State has produced a first-team All-Big Ten defender in eight of the past nine seasons, but no Nittany Lions defensive back has made the list since 2008 (safety Anthony Scirrotto). The drought could end this year.

If safety Adrian Amos plays to his potential, it will end.

"I don't know if I've ever coached a player with Adrian's skill set before," Lions defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told ESPN.com. "He’s so big, so strong, so fast. He can contend for first-team All-Big Ten and be a guy who receives national recognition if he pushes himself to the next level."

[+] EnlargeAdrian Amos
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Amos' size, speed and versatility make him a key cog in Penn State's secondary.
Shoop has yet to coach Amos in a game, but sees the potential on tape and on the practice field and is setting the bar high for the senior. Amos has the size -- nearly 6-foot-1 and 212 pounds. He has the speed, clocking a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash as a sophomore (unlike 99.9 percent of the population, he actually gets faster as he gains weight). He has the playmaking ability, with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

He also has versatility, although where he plays has sparked debate among Penn State fans.

"He's got a lot of things we're all looking for in recruiting, and what people are looking for at the next level in terms of drafting: height, weight, speed," PSU head coach James Franklin said. "He processes information fast as well. There are some guys that will test fast but they don't think fast on the field, so it slows them down.

"He does all those things extremely well."

Whether Amos' unique skills translate at safety remains to be seen. He played predominantly cornerback in high school in Baltimore and had success there early in his Penn State career, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2012.

He moved to safety last year to mixed results, as Penn State slipped to 59th nationally in points allowed and 73rd against the pass. Amos moved back to cornerback late in the season and performed well in an overtime win against Illinois, deflecting a pass that led to the clinching interception.

"Amos, his natural position, is corner," then-coach Bill O'Brien said at the time. "I think he's a good corner."

But he's a strong safety again with the new coaches. Shoop's rationale: it's the position a team's best defensive back should play.

"He's a natural safety," linebacker Mike Hull said of Amos.

Amos' take: "I'd say I’m a cornerback but I play well at safety. I can be very, very good at safety. The movements and everything are more natural and they come easily to me."

So which is it: safety or cornerback? Franklin acknowledges that Amos' versatility creates a debate. Amos and Jordan Lucas form an effective tandem at cornerback. Then again, having one standout at both secondary spots could be Penn State's best route. And the Lions coaches seek versatility, perhaps more than any other trait, on a roster where depth remains in short supply.

The truth is Amos can play well at both spots. But the comfort level he displayed during spring practice didn't come from his position.

"If I'm comfortable in the defense, I'm comfortable at any position," Amos said. "This defense allows me to play fast, so I enjoy playing safety in this defense. It allows me to be aggressive. It allows me to be around the ball a lot more, just making more plays.

"When you're a safety and you understand the defense, you play faster."

Amos calls the new defense a "fresh start," and has spent more time studying himself and his teammates on film. Shoop also shows him tape of his former Vanderbilt defenses and how certain unique players similar to Amos moved from safety to corner to nickel to dime.

This spring, they watched Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mark Barron, the former Alabama star, shift from covering the slot receiver to being the dime linebacker to working at strong safety and then free safety.

"He's a unique weapon for a defense," Shoop said of Amos. "To use a basketball analogy, you try to get him his touches."

Amos was too banged up to run the 40-yard dash for the new coaches before spring practice, but his goal is to break 4.4 at the next testing session. He believes he can play both secondary positions in the NFL, where bigger cornerbacks are trending and sturdy, physical safeties are still in demand.

But first thing's first. "We want to be the best secondary in the Big Ten," he said.

Elite secondaries have elite players, and Penn State could have one in Amos this fall.

"He has so much athleticism and skill," Hull said. "I haven't seen that out of very many players in the Big Ten. He has the whole package. He just needs to put it all together this year."
The story begins, like so many at Penn State, with Rip Engle.

The Hall of Fame coach who preceded Joe Paterno in Happy Valley didn't like the term commonly used to describe a strong safety: monster. So Engle came up with his own title.

"Rip thought that the word monster was derogatory," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, "so he decided to call the position hero, and we still call it that. We have a linebacker position called the Fritz linebacker. It's named after Fritz the pizza man, who used to get the team pizzas.

"My players go, 'Who’s the Sam [linebacker] named after?' I don't know, maybe Sam Hill."

Although the hero safety has been around for decades at Penn State, the name still takes some getting used to.

"The kids say, 'So when people ask what position I play, I'm going to say hero? Doesn't that sound arrogant?'" Bradley said. "They laugh about it."

But the hero is more than just a gaudy title.

It's part of the Penn State tradition. The program has produced several standout players at the Hero spot, including first-team All-Americans like Darren Perry and Michael Zordich Sr., whose son Michael is a sophomore linebacker on the current squad.

"We have a great past of Heroes, All-Americans in the 70s and 80s, so it’s pretty well known," free safety Nick Sukay said. "When you see former players, they'll talk to you about who was here and say, ‘This guy, he hit pretty hard. This guy, he broke on balls pretty good.' And then Michael, his dad played here in the 80s and he was really good."

Despite growing up in Edinboro, Pa., Drew Astorino didn't know much about Penn State's hero tradition when he arrived in State College. He got a crash course in the position from watching veteran safeties like Anthony Scirrotto and Mark Rubin.

After playing free safety for his first two seasons, Astorino moved to hero last fall.

"It’s the position I would choose to play if I could choose any," he said. "You're in the mix every single play. If it's a run, you have run responsibility; if it's pass, you have pass responsibility. You're on the strong side of the defense, so you get a lot of action, whether it’s fighting off blocks of the fullbacks, linemen, then you're man-on-man with the slot wide receiver.

"You just basically are a hybrid of linebacker-safety, which I really enjoy.”

In 2009, Astorino ranked fourth on the team with 62 tackles and recorded an interception, two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups. He'll once again start at Hero this fall with Sukay returning to free safety.

Bradley thinks the hero used to be more of a novelty at Penn State, as many teams now use some version of a safety-linebacker hybrid.

"You've got to make the right reads and fast reads at that position, so you know where to be at all times," Astorino said. "For example, if you go up on a run and it’s a pass, you can really mess up the pass coverage. So it's a lot of responsibility. Most safeties at most schools are just for pass coverage only. This is a chance for a position to get in the mix every single time.

"I couldn't enjoy it more."

Big Ten lunch links

February, 8, 2010
2/08/10
12:00
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We are hereby sentenced to 206 days without college or pro football. Ugh.

Penn State spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State Nittany Lions
2008 overall record: 11-2

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 4; Special teams: 1

Top returners

QB Daryll Clark, RB Evan Royster, C Stefen Wisniewski, DT Jared Odrick, LB Sean Lee, LB Navorro Bowman, S Drew Astorino

Key losses

WR Derrick Williams, WR Deon Butler, WR Jordan Norwood C A.Q. Shipley, LT Gerald Cadogan, DE Aaron Maybin, DE Josh Gaines, S Anthony Scirrotto, CB Lydell Sargeant

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Evan Royster* (1,236 yds)
Passing
: Daryll Clark* (2,592 yds)
Receiving: Deon Butler (810 yds)
Tackles
: Navorro Bowman* (106)
Sacks
: Aaron Maybin (12)
Interceptions
: Lydell Sargeant (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Akron
Sept. 12 Syracuse
Sept. 19 Temple
Sept. 26 Iowa
Oct. 3 at Illinois
Oct. 10 Eastern Illinois
Oct. 17 Minnesota
Oct. 24 at Michigan
Oct. 31 at Northwestern
Nov. 7 Ohio State
Nov. 14 Indiana
Nov. 21 at Michigan State
Spring answers

1. Line is fine -- Despite losing three major contributors at defensive end, Penn State's reloading line appears to be fine for 2009. Sophomore end Jack Crawford looks like the team's next dominant pass-rusher. There's good depth at defensive tackle around All-America candidate Jared Odrick, and if Penn State can get a bit healthier at the end positions, it should be solid up front.

2. Daryll does it -- Daryll Clark was the Big Ten's top quarterback by a fairly wide margin in 2008, and the senior built on his first season as a starter with a strong offseason. Clark has put the coaches at ease about the direction of the offense. He's the undisputed leader of the unit, and more importantly, he wants to lead. There might not be a more valuable player in the Big Ten this fall.

3. Wideouts emerge -- Penn State loses three multiyear starters at receiver, but several players showed this spring that they're ready to step up. Both Graham Zug and Brett Brackett caught touchdowns in the spring game and look to build off of their experience from last year. Derek Moye and Chaz Powell provide variety in the wide receiving corps, and the tight end position should be featured more after Andrew Quarless performed well this spring.

Fall questions

1. Secondary -- The wide receivers' performance in the spring game came with a caveat, as they faced a secondary that needs a ton of work before Sept. 5. Penn State loses all four starters from a unit that wasn't all that good to begin with, and head coach Joe Paterno expressed major concerns about the defensive backs this spring. The Lions need A.J. Wallace to get healthy and Drew Astorino to set the tone in the back four.

2. Offensive line -- Right tackle Dennis Landolt is Penn State's only returning starter playing the position he played in 2008. There are a lot of new faces up front, and it will take time for the group to jell. Three spots are up for grabs this summer, and talented junior Stefen Wisniewski still needs time to adjust to the center spot.

3. Quarterback depth -- Despite Kevin Newsome's encouraging performance in the spring game, Penn State likely can't afford a major injury to Clark to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. The Lions need continued development from both Newsome and Matt McGloin this summer so the coaches can feel comfortable turning things over if Clark goes down.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The superlatives pick up today with Big Ten co-champ Penn State, which will be one of the more intriguing teams to watch this spring. Penn State lost quite a bit at defensive back, wide receiver and offensive line, and the early departures of Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans created a hole at defensive end. Then again, D-line coach Larry Johnson seems to produce star pass rushers every year.

There were some tough choices here. 

Strongest position -- Linebacker

Key returnees: Junior Navorro Bowman, senior Sean Lee, senior Josh Hull, sophomore Michael Mauti

Key departures: Tyrell Sales (68 tackles, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles)

The skinny: Lee's return from a torn ACL gives Penn State the league's top linebacking corps entering the fall. Bowman earned first-team All-Big Ten honors following a monster sophomore season in which he tallied 106 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. If the Nittany Lions get decent production at the third linebacker spot from Hull, Mauti or someone else, they should be extremely tough against the run and active against the pass. Other strong positions include running back, defensive tackle and tight end. 

Weakest position -- Defensive back

Key returnees: Senior cornerback A.J. Wallace, sophomore safety Drew Astorino, senior safety/cornerback Knowledge Timmons

Key departures: Cornerback Lydell Sargeant (4 interceptions, 13 pass deflections), safety Anthony Scirrotto (61 tackles, 2 interceptions, 7 pass deflections), safety Mark Rubin (60 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble), cornerback Tony Davis (46 tackles, 1 interception)

The skinny: Several other positions could qualify here, but Penn State has a history of producing top defensive ends and should boast enough talent at wide receiver and offensive line to survive the losses of several multiyear starters. The bottom line is USC exposed Penn State's secondary as a major weakness in the Rose Bowl, and the Nittany Lions lose all four starters there. If last year's secondary was the best the Lions had to offer, this year's group could be in trouble. Penn State really needs players like Wallace and Astorino to step up this spring. 

Year-end defensive back rankings

January, 21, 2009
1/21/09
10:38
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The defensive year-end rankings finish up with the secondary. Despite several standouts at the top, the Big Ten wasn't as strong at the defensive back spots as it has been in past seasons. The league loses three standout cornerbacks but returns promising underclassmen at both corner and safety next fall.

Here's the top 10.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  Malcolm Jenkins looks like a surefire top 10 pick in this April's NFL draft.

1. Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins -- The Thorpe Award winner and All-American might have been the best all-around player I saw in the Big Ten this season. He made more big plays as the year progressed and stood out on special teams as well as in pass coverage. Barring a surprise, Jenkins will be a top 10 pick in April.

2. Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis -- He's a physical freak with hardly any body fat, but Davis sets himself apart in other ways. Unlike some gifted defensive backs, he's not afraid of contact and never shies away from laying out a wide receiver or ball carrier. He had a solid junior season and should be a first-round draft pick.

3. Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford -- Langford came off ACL surgery to turn in an excellent senior season. Wisconsin's defense struggled at times, but Langford consistently made plays in the secondary. He finished second in the league with 15 pass deflections. 

4. Michigan State safety Otis Wiley -- Wiley returned to his 2006 form and had a blistering start to the fall, recording four interceptions in the first four games. Though injuries slowed his production down the stretch, the consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection tops this year's crop of safeties.

5. Minnesota cornerback Traye Simmons -- One of several playmakers in the Gophers' secondary, Simmons finished the season with four interceptions and a league-leading 18 pass breakups. The junior college transfer made an immediate contribution on a Minnesota defense that started strong but faded fast.

6. Northwestern safety Brad Phillips -- It was criminal that Phillips didn't earn at least second-team All-Big Ten honors after a breakout junior season for the league's most improved defense. He became one of the Big Ten's most ferocious hitters and was always around the ball, finishing with a team-high 109 tackles, two forced fumbles and nine pass deflections.

7. Iowa cornerback Amari Spievey -- Spievey could enter next season as the Big Ten's top cover corner after an excellent sophomore year. He spurred a ball-hawking Hawkeyes secondary with four interceptions (127 return yards) and 10 pass breakups in his first season as a starter.

8. Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman -- Coleman wisely chose to stay at Ohio State for his senior season and will enter next fall as one of the nation's top safeties. He led Ohio State with four interceptions and finished third on the team in tackles with 78.

9. Iowa safety Tyler Sash -- All Sash does is make plays, and he tortured opposing quarterbacks for interceptions and big runbacks. The redshirt freshman tied for the league lead with five interceptions, including two in the Outback Bowl, and finished second on the team with 11 pass deflections.

10. Penn State safety Anthony Scirrotto -- The Lions' secondary turned out to be a weakness, but Scirrotto finished his career with a solid senior season. He had two interceptions and seven pass deflections and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches.
 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game aren't the only places to see Big Ten seniors play before the NFL combine. The third annual Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Challenge will feature 11 players from the Big Ten. The game pits top players who grew up in Texas or played for Texas colleges against players from around the country, though several players on the Texas team don't have strong ties to the Lone Star State.

Here's the list of Big Ten players participating in the game, to be played Jan. 31 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

TEXAS TEAM

  • Penn State wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Ohio State defensive tackle Nader Abdallah
  • Penn State cornerback Lydell Sargeant

NATION TEAM

  • Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter
  • Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger
  • Penn State tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Illinois defensive end Derek Walker
  • Michigan defensive tackle Will Johnson
  • Illinois linebacker Brit Miller
  • Penn State safety Anthony Scirrotto
  • Michigan long snapper Sean Griffin
Here are the full rosters for the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to delve into the mailbag. A lot of you are still thinking about the Penn State-Iowa game last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

Steve from Memphis writes: What about the pass interference call on the last drive? A very questionable call, Scirotto had a play on the ball. Also [Daryll] Clark was very inconsistent.

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony Scirrotto was going for the ball, but that penalty will be called 99 times out of 100. Trust me. You can't make contact with a receiver before the ball gets there, even if the pass seems uncatchable. I understand Scirrotto was trying to be aggressive, but as a senior, he needs to be smarter in that situation. There was no way the Iowa receiver comes down with that ball. An incomplete pass creates fourth-and-15, desperation time for the Hawkeyes.


Matt from Orlando, Fla., writes: Hi Adam, I'm a Penn State fan/alum who was extremely disappointed by our loss on Saturday night, however watching the game from my sunny Florida couch, I wondered how any of the supposed "powerhouses" Big 12 or especially SEC would have faired in those weather conditions . . . you know, the 30 Degree Weather, 30 MPH gusts of wind and threat of snow . . . it's hard to dominate with style points let alone win in a sub-arctic environment. How does conditions like that effect SOS or conference play no less - I don't think its fair to compare Big Ten play to that of other prime weather environments in the South. I highly doubt UF, Texas, TT, OU could put up 50+ points on the board in that Winter Wonderland we call the North East. PS Congrats Iowa to a good game well fought. I don't mind that we'll be smelling Roses come January.

Adam Rittenberg: Several e-mails have brought up the weather argument. It comes with the territory in the Big Ten, and other leagues (Big East, Boston College in ACC, Mountain West, Boise State) also have to deal with less-than ideal playing conditions. I agree that it's a little harder to win with style points, though Penn State did that for much of the season and could still post some big wins down the stretch. I can say definitively that weather conditions don't affect strength of schedule or any BCS gauges. I like your attitude about the Rose Bowl, though. It's hardly a bad consolation for Penn State.


Ben from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam- I understood what Michigan State had to do to win the big ten prior to Penn State's loss to Iowa, however now I am somewhat uncertain. I believe that in order for Sparty to win the Big Ten Ohio State will have to find some way to lose one of their last 2 games but I'm not positive. Wondering if you could clarify.

Adam Rittenberg: You're exactly right, Ben. The Spartans need to beat Penn State and hope that Ohio State loses to either Illinois or Michigan to win the Big Ten's BCS berth to the Rose Bowl. If Michigan State beats Penn State and Ohio State wins out, the Buckeyes head to Pasadena.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A couple of newsy nuggets from Penn State today.

Head coach Joe Paterno will have his injured right hip examined next week when Penn State has a bye. Paterno, who suffered the injury during the preseason while demonstrating an onside kick, has coached the last three games from the press box. Normally a coach's injury wouldn't attract so much attention, but this is an 81-year-old coaching legend without a contract for 2009. If anything forces JoePa to step away, it could be his health.

Starting safety Anthony Scirrotto expects to play Saturday against No. 9 Ohio State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) despite sustaining a concussion last week against Michigan. Scirrotto is practicing and had tests performed Tuesday, but he's still listed as questionable for the game. Paterno is keeping his fingers crossed that Scirrotto, the team's third-leading tackler (41), will be cleared.

Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski will be fine for the game despite a sprained knee.

Paterno didn't say whether Michael Mauti and Bani Gbadyu would continue to see time in place of Tyrell Sales and Josh Hull against the Buckeyes. Mauti and Gbadyu replaced the two starters against Michigan and performed well.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sorry for the late start today. Had to make a quick trip to downtown Chicago and got caught in some morning traffic. The good news is, I got to hear Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on Mike & Mike in the Morning. He reiterated that running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is doubtful for Saturday night's game against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). He added that the decision likely will be to play Wells sparingly or not at all. So it's unlikely Wells will play a major role in the game, even if he gets off the sidelines. 

Let's start the links with the game everyone's talking about:

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be driving to Ann Arbor later today to watch some real-life, American football take place at Michigan Stadium. But first, here's what's happening around the league.

Three questions for Penn State

August, 27, 2008
8/27/08
2:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I didn't get a chance to make it to Happy Valley during the preseason, but now that the quarterback situation is settled, it's time to take a look at Penn State. Here are three questions facing the Nittany Lions this fall.

1. Did Penn State make the right call with Daryll Clark at quarterback?

Clark has the right mix of size, speed, arm strength and intangibles to effectively run the Nittany Lions new offense, the Spread HD. Those expecting a reincarnation of Michael Robinson might be disappointed, but Clark should be able to manage an offense stacked with weapons at wide receiver and running back. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said sophomore Pat Devlin also likely will play this fall, which isn't a bad idea, but Clark will get the first opportunity. The 6-2 senior doesn't lack confidence and projects as a strong vocal leader, which should help him transition to the top spot and earn his teammates' respect.

2. How will the recent off-field incidents and the speculation about Paterno's future affect the team?

If things go bad early on, some of those distractions could creep in for Penn State, but the team has good senior leadership in players like A.Q. Shipley, Josh Gaines and Derrick Williams. The Nittany Lions can't afford any more disciplinary incidents after a well-publicized offseason in the blotter, and it will be up to the captains to maintain order. The Paterno questions could crop up more toward the end of the season, especially if the team is struggling. Players maintain they don't worry about the 81-year-old coach, but constantly getting asked to speculate about his future could take a toll.

3. Who will step up on defense after the season-ending injury to star linebacker Sean Lee?

Penn State still should have one of the Big Ten's best defenses despite the loss of Lee. Junior defensive end Maurice Evans is on the cusp of a monster season after collecting 21.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last fall. Safety Anthony Scirrotto will be fully focused after dealing with his own off-field problems last season and should lead Penn State in interceptions for the third consecutive year. If the Lions get good leadership from Tyrell Sales and production from former walk-on Josh Hull and promising sophomores Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu, the linebacker corps won't be an issue.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to predict the Big Ten all-conference team for 2008. Some of the names you'll recognize. Others might be a little hazy at this point, but not for long.

OFFENSE

QB: Curtis Painter, Purdue, Sr., 6-4, 230
RB: Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State, Jr., 6-1, 237
RB:
Javon Ringer, Michigan State, Sr., 5-9, 202
WR:
Arrelious "Regus" Benn, Illinois, So., 6-2, 214
WR:
Brian Robiskie, Ohio State, Sr., 6-3, 199
TE:
Travis Beckum, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-4, 236
LT:
Alex Boone, Ohio State, Sr., 6-8, 312
LG:
Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-6, 332
C:
A.Q. Shipley, Penn State, Sr., 6-1, 297
RG:
Rich Ohrnberger, Penn State, Sr. 6-2, 291
RT:
Xavier Fulton, Illinois, Sr., 6-5, 300

DEFENSE

DE: Maurice Evans, Penn State, Jr., 6-2, 264
DT:
Mitch King, Iowa, Sr., 6-3, 280
DT:
Terrance Taylor, Michigan, Sr., 6-0, 319
DE:
Greg Middleton, Indiana, Jr., 6-3, 279
LB:
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, Sr., 6-3, 240
LB:
Greg Jones, Michigan State, So., 6-1, 222
LB:
Marcus Freeman, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 239
CB:
Vontae Davis, Illinois, Jr., 6-0, 204
CB:
Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 201
S:
Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State, Sr., 6-0, 192
S:
Anderson Russell, Ohio State, Jr. 6-0, 205

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Austin Starr, Indiana, Sr., 6-3, 198
P:
Jeremy Boone, Penn State, Jr., 5-9, 194
KR:
Marcus Thigpen, Indiana, Sr., 5-9, 193
PR:
David Gilreath, Wisconsin, So., 5-11, 165

Ranking the Big Ten safeties

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
 Anthony Scirrotto (right) has led Penn State in interceptions the last two years.

The position rankings are winding down, and the safeties are up next. The league's notable departures include Michigan's Jamar Adams, Illinois' Kevin Mitchell and Minnesota's Dominique Barber. But several teams, including Penn State and Ohio State, return formidable safety tandems.

Here's a look:

1. Anderson Russell, Jr., Ohio State -- To stay on top, Russell must increase his interceptions total. A strong tackler with NFL potential, he ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season (63) and broke up five passes but failed to record a pick.

2. Anthony Scirrotto, Sr., Penn State -- The Big Ten's top playmaking safety has led Penn State in interceptions the last two years. Scirrotto is durable, making 26 consecutive starts, and the co-captain should duplicate or exceed his 2006 production after struggling with off-field issues last fall.

3. Otis Wiley, Sr., Michigan State -- Wiley sizzled as a sophomore, leading Michigan State in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10). He backslid a bit last season but should return to form as a senior. 

4. Kurt Coleman, Jr., Ohio State -- A carbon copy of Russell in productivity, Coleman collected one more tackle and had one fewer pass breakup. Like Russell, interceptions are the next step for the talented junior.

5. Shane Carter, Jr., Wisconsin -- Carter led the Big Ten in interceptions with seven last season and will continue to make plays for the Badgers. If he dramatically improves his tackling, he'll soar up the list.

6. Austin Thomas, Jr., Indiana -- Underrated junior led Indiana with 112 tackles last fall and should take another step this year. Thomas is the Big Ten's leading returning tackler among safeties. 

7. Brendan Smith, Jr., Northwestern -- Smith can be a difference-maker for a Wildcats secondary that sorely needs one. He's a natural playmaker with five career interceptions but must stay healthy after being dogged by shoulder and knee injuries.

8. Tramaine Brock, Jr., Minnesota -- I'm a little leery to include a junior-college transfer, but all indications suggest Brock will make a major impact in the Gophers secondary. A ferocious hitter, Brock locked up a starting job this spring and should set the tone for the defensive backs.

9. Brandon Harrison, Sr., Michigan -- Harrison certainly has the speed to be a star, and with added experience, he should turn in a strong final season. The versatile senior started 10 games last fall, collecting 6.5 tackles for a loss, five pass breakups and an interception.

10. Brett Greenwood, So., Iowa -- A promising young defender, Greenwood ranked second on the team in pass breakups (7) and tied for third in interceptions (2) despite starting as a redshirt freshman. The former walk-on should continue to blossom this fall alongside Harold Dalton. 

Ranking the Big Ten cornerbacks

August, 12, 2008
8/12/08
10:31
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Malcolm Jenkins had four interceptions last season.

The rankings return with the cornerbacks, followed by the safeties later. Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis top the list, but things get a little bit cloudy after those two. Just a reminder that the rundown is only cornerbacks, so if you're looking for names like Anderson Russell, Anthony Scirrotto and Austin Thomas, check back in a bit.

1. Malcolm Jenkins, Sr., Ohio State -- It's a tight race with Davis for the top spot, but Jenkins gets the nod. He enters the fall as the Thorpe Award frontrunner after passing up NFL millions. The back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection had four interceptions last season and can shut down one side of the field.

2. Vontae Davis, Jr., Illinois -- His pro stock is skyrocketing and Davis soon will join his big brother Vernon in the NFL. Last season the Thorpe Award semifinalist had four interceptions, eight pass breakups, nine tackles for loss and two blocked punts, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

3. Lydell Sargeant, Sr., Penn State -- With Justin King gone, Sargeant moves into a featured cover role and has the tools to step up. In his first season as a starter he led Penn State defensive backs and ranked third on the team with 70 tackles. And Sargeant isn't afraid of big stages -- in March he was one of the introductory speakers at an on-campus rally of 22,000 people that featured presidential candidate Barack Obama.

4. Donald Washington, Jr., Ohio State -- His two-game suspension at the start of the season could hurt, but Washington has plenty of experience to readjust. Often overshadowed by Jenkins, Washington has big-play potential, as he showed by returning his lone interception last fall 70 yards for a touchdown.

5. Donovan Warren, So., Michigan -- One of the top young defensive backs in the league, Warren earned several freshman All-America distinctions last fall. He recorded 52 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble against Notre Dame. Like most Wolverines players, Warren improved his conditioning level this summer and should turn in a strong sophomore season.

6. Morgan Trent, Sr., Michigan -- The team's most experienced player has made 29 career starts in the secondary, collecting 108 tackles [92 solo] and 19 pass breakups. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season. Trent has been burned at times by elite receivers, but he brings leadership to the secondary and complements Warren.

7. A.J. Wallace, Jr., Penn State -- Wallace turned heads as a freshman, playing on both sides of the ball and dazzling on kickoff returns and reverses. Hopes remain high for his progress at cornerback, as he moves into the spot vacated by King. After a superb Alamo Bowl performance [five tackles, interception, fumble recovery], Wallace should do big things this fall.

8. Bradley Fletcher, Sr., Iowa -- Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada had Iowa's starting cornerback spots on lockdown, but Fletcher still contributed with 53 tackles and two interceptions last fall. With those two gone, Fletcher steps into a featured role this fall. He has played a lot the last two seasons and should step up as a senior.

9. Allen Langford, Sr., Wisconsin -- How Langford responds following ACL surgery is critical, but he brings plenty of experience to a suspect Badgers secondary. He has six career interceptions and 19 pass breakups, including seven in 10 games last fall before the injury. If healthy, the fifth-year senior provides a big boost in the back half.

10. Kendell Davis-Clark, Sr., Michigan State -- Davis-Clark ranked second on the team in tackles [73] in his first season as a starter and should continue to progress this fall. He had eight pass breakups and was effective on blitzes with four sacks in 2007. Davis-Clark's next step is making more plays for a takeaway-starved Spartans defense.

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