Penn State's Ryan Keiser (23) intercepts an Illinois pass at the goal line in overtime of Penn State's 24-17 win in a game in State College, Pa., Nov. 2, 2013. At right are Illinois' Spencer Harris (80) and Penn State's Adrian Amos.
By Mark Dent / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
DUBLIN, Ireland — To combat wet practice conditions Wednesday on the leafy, sprawling campus of University College Dublin, Penn State cornerback Jordan Lucas wore a long-sleeve thermal shirt under his practice uniform. As far as the jet lag, he said his legs felt fine.
Indeed, the most troubling aspect of this trip for him had nothing to do with a subject related to football -- Lucas was worried about the roads. He was having trouble adjusting to cars going in the opposite direction of what he is used to in the United States and fretting about looking the wrong way into oncoming traffic.
"Shoot," he said, "you might not catch me walking."
It makes sense. Some culture shock in Ireland is natural. Football shock, however, doesn't come often for Lucas anymore. Lucas, safety Adrian Amos and safety Ryan Keiser anchor a secondary with more experience than the linebackers or the defensive line, and they will be counted on as the veterans of this defense.
That wasn't the case for the secondary two years ago. In 2012, Penn State started Malcolm Willis, Stephon Morris, Da'Quan Davis and Amos most of the season. None were full-time starters in 2011. They had to learn, and Amos caught on quickly. He finished that season with 44 tackles and two interceptions and honorable mention All-Big Ten Conference honors.
Lucas and Keiser played sparingly in 2012, recording a combined six tackles. They broke out last year.
Lucas tied for third in the Big Ten in passes defended and had 64 tackles and three interceptions. Keiser battled injuries and finished with 38 tackles and three interceptions. It was his first season as a scholarship player.
Along with linebacker Mike Hull, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said Keiser and Lucas will be two of the most important players in communicating with the entire defense.
"Ryan Keiser and Adrian Amos have done a really good job of that," he said. "And those are the guys, they have a lot of game experience, they're very, very football intelligent, have high football IQs and, going into an opening game, it's very comforting knowing that you've got Mike, Ryan and Adrian as the guys kind of running the show back there."
The fourth spot in the secondary -- the corner opposite Lucas -- is the only unsure part of the group. Trevor Williams is listed as the starter with Davis backing him up, but freshmen likely could see playing time. Christian Campbell and particularly Grant Haley have been talked about as backups.
The other three, however, are firmly entrenched in their positions and comfort with one another, so much so that their familiarity goes beyond verbal communication. Amos says he recognizes Lucas' hand signals.
Even for veterans, though, Central Florida will provide a challenge. Last year, quarterback Blake Bortles completed 20 of 27 passes for 288 yards against Penn State.
Though he's gone to the NFL, top receivers such as J.J. Worton, Breshad Perriman and Josh Reese are back. Right away, their skill as a group will be tested, but Amos said they'll be ready.
"We're just comfortable communicating with each other," he said. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and that helps us play together as one."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.
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