Penn State senior safety Grant Haley said he and his fellow defensive backs are developing mindsets during spring practice which will lead to causing more turnovers next season.
By Omari Sankofa II Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After practices, it’s been a common sight to see Penn State’s defensive backs play the role of wide receiver.
Using the JUGS passing machine, Penn State’s cornerbacks and safeties have been spending time catching the ball after the final whistle each day. If their efforts pay off, it could help Penn State make a leap as a defensive team next season, according to head coach James Franklin.
Franklin wants Penn State to get more turnovers next season. The Nittany Lions were a middle-of-the-pack team in that area in 2016, ranking No. 8 overall among Big Ten teams in both interceptions (10) and turnover margin +.07.
By turning a few pass breakups into interceptions, Franklin hopes Penn State’s defense can trend toward the top of the conference next year.
“We talk a lot about if we want to improve in turnovers, that’s an area we want to improve in, we have to invest in it,” Franklin said. “I think the more confident our defensive players are in catching the ball, the more willing they’ll be in catching the pick rather than the pass breakup.”
Nationally, Penn State was tied for No. 64 overall in turnover margin. Two of the top three scoring defenses in the Big Ten, Ohio State and Wisconsin, ranked No. 3 and No. 9 nationally in turnover margin, respectively.
Wisconsin and Ohio State also led the conference in interceptions with 22 and 21, and ranked No. 2 and No. 4 nationally in that category.
“If we can increase our turnover ratio and do a better job at picks and things like that, and I’m not talking about unbelievable catches,” Franklin said. “Just catching what you’re supposed to. I think it’s going to help us because you can take a good defense and become great, or a great defense and become elite by just making that change.
“If we did nothing different but increase our turnovers next year, that would have a dramatic impact on our defense and it would have a dramatic impact on our offense as well.”
Senior safety Grant Haley said the defensive backs have been working every day to get better at catching the ball. He hopes the shift in mindset on defense will lead to an uptick in interceptions.
“We’ve done a great job as a defensive unit,” Haley said. “If the ball’s on the ground, being the first one to scoop it up. If it’s in the air, going up and playing it first and taking it back as a receiver. Having that mindset is going to jump us forward and be able to have those turnovers that we haven’t had.”
Fresh off of a Rose Bowl appearance, he said he’s felt a different energy from his teammates during spring camp.
“We have a lot of confidence, lots of competition on the offensive and defensive side of the ball,” Haley said. “That’s just going to make our team better.”
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