Penn State will host its annual spring scrimmage on Saturday, even if established stars like running back Saquon Barkley, tight end Mike Gesicki and linebacker Jason Cabinda are likely to be watching from the sidelines. However, that doesn’t mean there will be less for fans to see. A slew of players likely to be competing for and ultimately assuming important roles on the team this fall will see significant action, and this week on the Penn State Blog, we’ll be looking at the Top 5.
Today, we scout the last of the list and one of the newest Nittany Lions, true freshman Lamont Wade.
What he did in 2016: He played high school football at PIAA powerhouse Clairton and did so well enough to establish himself in some minds as the top defensive back prospect in the nation for the 2017 recruiting class. The Under Armor All-American had 14 career interceptions for the Bears and was also one of the most dynamic offensive players in the state last season.
What he can show on Saturday: He can do what few true freshmen ever get the chance to in the spring scrimmage: Show Penn State he is ready for prime time.
A few weeks ago, Penn State seemed settled on the fact that Wade would play this as a true freshman, which would be challenging enough in itself. But, there is a big difference between playing as a true freshman in spots that play to your strengths, and playing as a true freshman because you’re needed. And with Wade, Penn State might be traveling into the “needs to play” territory.
Penn State coach James Franklin hasn’t exactly addressed the reports that a knee injury suffered this spring by starter corner John Reid will keep him out the entire 2017 season. And, while it doesn’t address injuries often, Franklin and Penn State’s program do seem to make consistent good on their promise to announce injuries that end a player’s season. Perhaps the fact that there has been no word from the program on Reid’s status for the fall is telling in that regard.
But assuming the worst, healthy bodies — even at a position of strength for Penn State — become important, and any experience matters once the feathers start to fly in September. Wade will need to soak up the Blue-White Game experience perhaps more than any other player on the field will.
Why is he important for 2017: It should be noted that even if the worst-case scenario comes to fruition, and Penn State doesn’t get Reid back this fall, there are experienced, starting-caliber players at cornerback at whom Franklin, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith can look. Christian Campbell is one, for sure. Amani Oruwariye is another, and Zech McPhearson was a pretty good prospect coming out of high school in the 2016 recruiting class, too. And speaking of recruits, Wade wasn’t the only good one in the 2017 class. So, there will be options.
The problem for Penn State is, Reid is not like most players. He’s a tough-minded, quick, relentless, physical corner who Pro Football Focus lauded at times last year. You lose a player like that, you might have to consider changing a bit the way you are most comfortable playing defense. Without Reid, you lose a little against the run. You lose some attitude.
As good a corner as Campbell is, and for as much potential as Oruwariye has, just plugging one of them into the starting lineup might not be the easy way to go here. Because the fact that Wade is so similar in style and aggressiveness to Reid has to make him at least an intriguing possibility to step into the lineup.
He’s a tremendous prospect, for sure. But it might be difficult even at this point to predict Wade would be as good this year as Reid would have been. But if he can be Reid-like, Penn State probably has to consider the benefits of giving him a shot at a starting job.
How you’ll know he did his job: It’s often difficult to tell with cornerbacks, because their performance depends on the quarterbacks throwing and the receivers catching and the schemes called. But, while he can cover well downfield, Reid is not a pure cover corner. He’ll get in the mix. He’ll be involved against the run. When he’s at his most comfortable, he’ll look for the big hit.
If No. 38 is where the ball is on a relatively consistent basis, you’ll know he’s feeling comfortable. And even more than the statistics, Penn State’s coaches will probably walk away happy with Wade if they believe he’s starting to get a feel for the system.
Penn State cornerback Lamont Wade takes a handoff in a high school game last season. Associated Press photo.