So far we have previewed several position groups heading into Spring practice and the early enrollees that have joined the Nittany Lions for winter workouts. We have looked at who the Penn State quarterbacks are, the tight ends, and the safeties. Now, it is time to look at who the Penn State cornerbacks are entering Spring practice. It should also be noted that Penn State announced the 2021 Blue & White Game will be played on April 17th, but the only spectators currently allowed are Penn State freshmen.
Who Are the Penn State Cornerbacks?
The Penn State cornerbacks are a young group entering 2021 Spring practice. The unit only has one senior among them and that is Tariq Castro-Fields. Outside of the veteran, Castro-Fields, there are three sophomores, two redshirt freshmen, and three true freshmen. Four of those eight underclassmen have real game experience. So, who are the Penn State cornerbacks?
Cornerback One: Castro-Fields
We have already stated that Castro-Fields is the lone senior of the group. Castro-Fields has been a fixture in the secondary since his true freshman season in 2017. During his true freshman season, he accounted for 10 tackles, two for loss, and one interception. He also forced a fumble that year. He ramped up the production as a sophomore in 2018. Castro-Fields tallied 32 total tackles, five for loss, and one sack. As a junior in 2019, he became a starter for the Nittany Lions. He had two interceptions that year. Further, he led the cornerbacks in tackles for loss. He was poised to have a big senior season in 2020, but he was sidelined by an injury after the third game. Even with playing in only three games, Castro-Fields was an All-Big Ten Honorable mention in 2020.
Castro-Fields returning for the Nittany Lions in 2021 is huge to help eliminate big plays downfield. This is something that has plagued the Penn State secondary for several seasons. A healthy Castro-Fields could remedy that.
Cornerback Two: Joey Porter Jr.
Porter Jr. was a four-star cornerback in the 2019 recruiting class according to the 247Sports Composite ranking. He has the instincts to play at a high level but needed that extra year as a freshman to clean up his technique. Porter Jr. only saw the field in four games during his true freshman season. The redshirt freshman utilized the off-season and became a starter in 2020. He showed great improvement and was a bright spot in a not-so-great 2020 for the Penn State secondary. In the shortened season, Porter Jr. accounted for 33 total tackles, two for loss, and one sack. He also had four passes defended. Porter Jr. will likely be paired with Castro-Fields as the cornerback starters during Spring practice. It will be interesting to see him progress in his second year as a starter in 2021.
Cornerback Honorable Mentions
There are several other cornerbacks that could take up the third spot in 2021. Sophomore Keaton Ellis had a big true freshman season but dropped off a little bit in 2020. He will have to prove this Spring that the drop-off in production was not a trend, but rather a blip. Ellis is a hometown product out of State College Area High School. He is a hard-hitting, physical player that needs to refine his timing. The sophomore was surpassed by Porter Jr. in 2020, but still saw action in five games and had an interception. Johnny Dixon, Marquis Wilson, and Daequan Hardy are also poised to see playing time in 2021. All three could also be in that third spot behind Castro-Fields and Porter Jr., but which one will it be? Could this spot change throughout the season?
Dixon is a transfer from South Carolina. As a freshman in 2019 Dixon appeared in three games for the Gamecocks and grabbed one interception. Then, in 2020 he appeared in 10 games, had a fumble recovery, and tallied 34 total tackles. Further, Penn State recruited Dixon out of high school before he signed with South Carolina. Hopefully, the former three-star prospect pans out for the Nittany Lions.
Wilson and Hardy played well last season for Penn State, but Wilson had a much more productive freshman season in 2019 than in 2020. In 2019 Wilson tallied two interceptions, forced two fumbles, and recovered one. As a freshman in the shortened 2020 season, Hardy appeared in seven games at the cornerback position. He accounted for ten tackles, one for loss, and one sack. He was thrust into action after Castro-Fields suffered a season-ending injury.
All four cornerbacks will be fighting for playing time during Spring practice, but it is no doubt that all four will likely see action in the Fall. The secondary for Penn State is no stranger to injuries and it has always been a next-man-up mentality. Each player has their own strengths. They just need to work on the strengths outweighing the flaws. Spring practice will be perfect for that.