Secondary must learn as quickly as it runs
By Sam Ross Jr.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Justin King and Knowledge Timmons are the lead dogs in a group of Penn State defensive backs long on speed, but short on playing experience.
Who is faster has been an ongoing subplot to a spring practice in which replacing four departed starters in the secondary has been a priority.
Timmons, according to King, will point to himself when tapes are playing and declare, "100-meter champ." Timmons won state titles in the 100 and 200 while at York's William Penn High School. He ran on Penn State's indoor track team.
Gateway's King will counter that this is football, where the 40-yard time is the thing -- and King is tops there, having been clocked recently at 4.31 seconds.
"We both know we're fast," King said Tuesday. "Who's the fastest person on the team? I ran the fastest 40.
"In a 40-yard dash, Knowledge won't beat me. Ever."
Someone suggested that King and Timmons run a 100-meter dash after the Blue-White Game on Saturday to settle the debate. King countered with a 40-yard distance -- nothing longer than 60 yards.
"Knowledge has overdrive at 70 yards," King said. "It's pretty unbelievable."
Observers marvel at the overall speed of the collection of backs looking to replace departed cornerbacks Alan Zemaitis and Anwar Phillips and safeties Calvin Lowry and Chris Harrell.
"The biggest thing I see is just raw talent," Lions wide receiver Deon Butler said. "It's just scary to me that once they actually get game experience and calm down and settle down, how well they'll play together. Right now, they're just playing mostly off their raw talent."
King, who will be playing his sophomore season this fall, is the starter at right cornerback. Tony Davis, a redshirt sophomore, is running first team at left corner. The safeties look to be seniors Nolan McCready and Donnie Johnson, both of whom are relatively inexperienced. Timmons, a redshirt freshman, is a backup corner.
Although King spent the second half of last season concentrating on offense, owing to the season-ending arm injury suffered by wide receiver Derrick Williams against Michigan, he is among the most experienced Lions defensive backs this season. That has necessitated an adjustment.
"When I was in there with them (last year's starters), I was the young pup out there listening for calls," King said. "Now I have to be into it, knowing the formations and the checks. People are starting to look at me to make the call."
King is aware there are doubts about how well the holdovers will replace the departed defensive backs, two of whom -- Zemaitis and Phillips -- are expected to be selected on the first day of the NFL draft.
"We know what we can do," King said. "We really don't care about how good or bad people think we're going to be.
"We can play with anybody."
While King is not working with the offense this spring, he is doing duty on punt teams. On the return team, his job is to hold up the coverage team's outside gunners. On coverage, he's working as a gunner, a role the departed Ethan Kilmer played to virtual perfection last season.
King is happy with his role on special teams. He's happier to be concentrating on defense.
"When you don't play defensive back for a while, you start to second-guess some things you do," he said. "You have to get that feel for it. It's not all X's and O's."
Sam Ross Jr. can be reached email@example.com or (724) 838-5144.