The change that could make Penn State’s good defense great, or even elite, in 2017
Penn State cornerback Grant Haley catches a pass during spring practice on the Lasch fields on March 29, 2017. Joe Hermitt | firstname.lastname@example.org
Penn State’s defense ranked No. 68 in the country a year ago with just 10 interceptions over 14 games.
To the surprise of no one, changing that number for the better is one of key focuses of spring for defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s unit.
It’s why you can find the Nittany Lions defensive back, led by safety Marcus Allen and corner Grant Haley among others, often cycling through the JUGS ball throwing machine catching balls in a line usually reserved for running backs, receivers, and tight ends.
“We’ve talked a lot about, if we really want to improve in turnovers, we have to invest in it” head coach James Franklin said on Wednesday. “I think the more confident our defensive players are in catching the ball, the more willing they’re going to be to go for the pick.”
Ever the competitors, Haley could quickly rattle off which corner had the most interceptions so far this spring: January enrollee Lamont Wade, with three.
The most recent one came off a tipped pass by linebacker Cam Brown that fell right into Haley’s hands, something that PSU fans can probably recall as nearly happening a few times in a game, with a few different players, before the ball bounced off the turf just away from the outstretched arms of some defensive back.
There will still be some of those, but according to Haley, the goal is to have less of them, and the only way to get there is through endless hours of what is likely mundane practice.
Penn State’s Grant Haley says defense needs more turnovers in 2017
“As defensive players, we weren’t happy about the amount of turnovers we had last year,” Haley said. “We’re just working on our hands every single day. We’re just trying to get that mental mindset.
“We feel like we missed more opportunities, and we have to take more chances, too, to get those opportunities.”
According to Franklin, doing so could lead to dramatic change for these Lions as they attempt to go further than a Big Ten title.
“If we can increase our turnover ratio, and do a better job with picks, then it’s going to really help us,” he said. “You can take a good defense, and become great, or a great defense and become elite, by just making that change.
“If we did nothing different but increase our turnovers next year, it would have a dramatic impact on our defense, and a dramatic impact on our offense, as well.”
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