- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
Key losses: Stephon Morris (60 tackles, five tackles-for-loss, five pass deflections)
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.
5dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy