Penn State looks for cornerbacks Williams, Davis to bounce back this season
Trevor Williams had the game-clinching interception in Penn State's 2013 opener against Syracuse but lost his starting job by the season's midway point.
Da'Quan Davis was a regular contributor on defense as a true freshman in 2012 but rarely saw the field outside of special teams in 2013.
With the 2014 opener two weeks away, Williams and Davis have reclaimed their prominent spots among Penn State's cornerback hierarchy under the Nittany Lions' new coaching staff.
“We've assured the guys a clean slate,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “These are two guys who have taken full advantage of that.”
Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Williams “has had the best offseason of anyone on the team.” Shoop concurred.
Shoop speculated Davis “probably got in the previous staff's doghouse” but said he has “practiced extremely well.” Shoop noted Davis “really stood out” in the spring game while on a roster (the “White” team) that meant he was defending mostly starters (on the “Blue” team).
At only 171 pounds, the 5-10 Davis gives up 25 pounds to Penn State starting boundary corner Jordan Lucas, who earned preseason All-Big Ten recognition after seizing a starting job in 2013 upon moving from safety.
Lucas broke out and became a reliable, productive player and team leader — if not a star.
The cornerback opposite him remains as perhaps the one spot among the starting 11 that is a question mark for the defense. Williams held the No. 1 job there until the seventh game of last season, when the former coaching staff moved Adrian Amos from safety back to replace him.
Not long after coming to Penn State in January, Shoop — wowed by what he saw on tape from Amos — declared Amos a safety once again. That leaves Williams as the “incumbent” for a job he won at the beginning of last year but ultimately lost.
“He's worked extremely hard and has been a guy committed and dedicated to being the best he can,” Smith said.
Three years ago, Williams was a three-star recruit from Maryland as a wide receiver. He had 10 catches and one start as a true freshman in 2012. But in part to address a team need, he was moved to defense during 2013 spring practice.
Shoop believes it took a full year for Williams to feel completely comfortable with it.
“It all clicked in for him about mid-spring, and he's embraced being a corner,” Shoop said. “Where I think he did it for the team at one point, now he's embraced it: ‘I'm doing this. This is not just some part-time thing. I'm really a corner now, and I'm ready to take my game to the next level.' ”
Should Penn State fail to get steady play from Williams or Davis this season, there are virtually no other known quantities at cornerback. Jordan Smith worked into the rotation as a true freshman in 2013, and the defensive staff is excited about four incoming freshmen at the position: Grant Haley, Christian Campbell, Amani Oruwariye and Daquan Worley.
At least some of those freshmen will play this season. How much likely depends on how big of a bounce-back the Lions get from Williams and Davis.