Penn State secondary seeks respect

Adrian Amos saw action in every game last season and will be a key player for the Penn State secondary. Cal Sport Media via AP Images

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Cornerback Stephon Morris hears the criticism. He knows outsiders look at the secondary as Penn State's weakest link.

He can't forget -- his coach makes sure of that. Every day before practice, secondary coach John Butler reads critical snippets from the media aloud to his squad. He wants them to know they need to fight for respect.

"It's definitely been a motivation factor," Morris said.

With the graduation of four starters --- and the departure of another three DBs -- the secondary has been targeted like an animal with a limp. The defensive line features Jordan Hill, who's on the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists, while the linebackers boast two players (Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti) who are among the best in the Big Ten.

And the secondary ... well ... it has two safeties overcoming minor injuries, a 5-foot-8 cornerback and a true sophomore.

"I want people to keep talking," safety Malcolm Willis said, "and we'll let our play speak for itself."

Its season-opening challenge won't be an easy one. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton threw for a school-record 3,302 yards last season and a school-record 28 touchdowns.

The Bobcats' fast-tempo offense will further complicate matters for the inexperienced secondary. With no time to huddle, Penn State's defensive backs will have to adjust quickly and with hand signals.

Willis tried to assure the media earlier this week that wouldn't make the game any harder.

"I think people should just relax," he added. "We plan on going out there and showing people how hard we've been working and how far we've come as a secondary. We just want everyone to relax. We'll be OK."

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof's changes don't stop at hand signals. Roof has added more schemes to the playbook, and players said he's not afraid of man-to-man coverage -- or leaving his cornerbacks with some critical one-on-one matchups -- in favor of a more aggressive defense.

Morris said he preferred this style, and Adrian Amos said he couldn't wait to show off the new defense Saturday.

"I want us to be more aggressive, force more turnovers, more scoring on defense," Amos said.

"We'll see what happens."