An argument can be made — and it would be a good one — that the best defensive player Penn State had from Sept. 3 through Jan. 2 last season was John Reid.
The 5-foot-10 cornerback was one of two players on the team to start in all 14 games on defense, along with safety Marcus Allen. He picked off a pass and recovered a fumble. He was solid against the run. He led the team in passes defensed and passes broken up. Mostly, he was quiet, which is exactly what you want a cornerback to be. If your name isn’t called much in the passing game, it’s because the guy you’re covering isn’t getting the football thrown his way.
Well, Penn State will have to make due without him this season evidently, as word circulated this week that Reid suffered a knee injury in spring practice that likely will keep him out of action during the 2017 season.
For sure, it’s not an ideal situation for the Nittany Lions, who have Big Ten and even national championship aspirations this fall and clearly didn’t count on pursuing those goals without easily their best cornerback. But as good as Reid is, there are positions on this team where a star player would have been much more difficult to replace with a capable backup.
So, assuming Reid won’t return, here’s a look at the players with the best odds of replacing Reid’s production on the field come September.
In 2016: 13 games, 31 tackles, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR
Campbell is sneaky good. He has played a lot the last three years, despite battling some injury issues in 2015. He has been solid in coverage and is still one of the faster players on the Nittany Lions’ roster. He also has the size 6-foot-1, to give Penn State a different dimension against bigger receivers, which is a job Reid handled well despite being on the shorter side.
It would seem to make most sense to slide Campbell into the starting role given the combination of his experience, size and ability. Nobody would be surprised if this was the move to replace Reid in the starting lineup, nor would it likely be a detrimental decision by the coaching staff. Campbell is capable.
In 2016: Developed into one of most highly sought after cornerbacks in nation at Clairton High School
Sure, he’s a true freshman who has never played a collegiate game and is playing a position where Penn State has a lot of young depth. But, head coach James Franklin, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith almost have to consider Wade.
For starters, he plays a lot like Reid, and Reid played well as a true freshman too. Wade is 5-foot-9, but he’s strong , physical and not easily intimidated. He’s good against the run and dynamic when he gets the ball in his hands. The coaching staff would have been searching for ways to get Wade on the field had Reid not gotten hurt, and now they’ve been given an easy opportunity, as much as they surely didn’t want it.
Wade has made quite a mark both on the practice field and in the weight room after enrolling in January, and that might prove to be a fortuitous move for the Nittany Lions. Wade, clearly, is the most talented option available to replace their best corner.
In 2016: 11 games, 23 tackles, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed
Like Campbell, Oruwariye saw a lot of action last season and played well at times. He returned a pick for a touchdown against Kent State and had some moments during the season where he came up big.
All in all, though, he wasn’t as consistent off the bench as Campbell, and he is probably half a step slower. Otherwise, they’re just about clones, 6-foot-1 guys who are physical and can play both the run and pass. Oruwariye can easily make the jump to the starting lineup with a strong spring and summer camp. Either way, he’s a good bet to play a lot more.
In 2016: Redshirt season
McPhearson was a pretty good cornerback prospect in the 2016 recruiting class who sat out last season to hit the weights, and he certainly has an outside shot to play more at corner this season.
That said, he could be in line to step in for Reid at another spot the injured junior excelled in last season: Punt returner. Reid averaged 7.5 yards per return last season and ripped off a few big ones, including a 59-yarder against Pittsburgh. The coaching staff went away from Reid a bit in that spot as it became more clear he needed to be on the field as much as possible at cornerback, but it’s conceivable he’d have been asked to go back to returning punts this fall because he showed well.
McPhearson has the return ability, and Penn State will need the boost on special teams to go where it wants to this season.
Penn State will have a lot of names to choose from, ranging from the likes of summer enrollees Donovan Johnson, Tariq Castro-Fields and D.J. Brown to taller redshirt freshman T.J. Johnson (left) to FCS transfer Jabari Butler, the one-time Southland Conference Freshman of the Year.
Of course, one of the three true freshman would stand the best chance to crack the rotation among this group, unless the speedy Butler is able to navigate the sizable jump in competition. Johnson is also intriguing, as is sophomore Garrett Taylor, a corner who the staff has toyed with at safety as well.
Reid photo by Associated Press