Penn State had depth issues in the secondary last season, to the point that defensive coordinator John Butler was leery of using nickel and dime sets.
The Nittany Lions returned three starters in the secondary, but the depth has improved so much that just one is guaranteed a starting role this season -- and that starting role comes at a different position.
Junior Adrian Amos (6 feet, 215 pounds) started at corner last season, but is at his more natural safety position this season. He is the only returning starter who is a for-sure starter this fall.
Senior Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (5-10, 205) started at safety last season, but now is Amos' backup. And senior Malcolm Willis (5-11, 215), the other safety starter last fall, is listed as a co-starter with junior Ryan Keiser (6-1, 205), who has spent much of the past two seasons holding on field-goal and extra-point attempts.
The big changes come at cornerback. Sophomore Trevor Williams (6-1, 187) played extensively at wide receiver as a true freshman last season and started once, against Ohio State. But he moved to corner after five practices in the spring and looked good; he looked even better in fall camp and will start this season. Williams has excellent speed and good size and is a young prospect to watch this fall.
The other starting corner will be sophomore Jordan Lucas (6-0, 193), who played sparingly at safety as a true freshman last fall. He was named the defense's most improved player this spring and is expected to provide a physical presence.
"They've had productive training camps," coach Bill O'Brien told statecollege.com last week about Lucas and Williams. "They've gotten their hands on a lot of balls. They've tackled well, they've communicated well and they've played well in zone coverage and man coverage."
Sophomore Da'Quan Davis -- who went to high school with Amos and Williams at Baltimore Calvert Hall -- will back up Lucas, and true freshmen Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith (no relation) are expected to see time behind Williams.
Last season's secondary struggled at times, finishing with just three picks (the team had 10), and the Nittany Lions finished 52nd in the nation in pass defense, a drop of 35 spots from 2011.
This season's secondary appears much faster and much more athletic. The first true test will come Sept. 14 against UCF, whose quarterback, Blake Bortles, threw for 3,059 yards and 25 TDs last season while completing 62.9 percent of his passes.