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Penn State Football: Malcolm Willis Outlines Changes in New Defensive Scheme

by on April 08, 2012 6:00 AM

The hero position in Penn State's defensive backfield has been a staple since Rip Engle roamed the sideline in Happy Valley.

But Engle is gone, and now so to is the hero.

"Before we had the hero back, but now, it's just free and strong safety," safety Malcolm Willis said on a conference call with reporters this past week.

It's not just the terminology that will change, but also the style, too, when Penn State's defense is on the field.

"The main difference is tempo," Willis said. "Before, we were stationary at the snap, but now, we are all moving before the ball is snapped, from the secondary, to the linebackers, to the defensive line."

The senior defensive back took on an increased role a year ago and is expected to take on the starting free safety spot come Sept. 1 when Ohio rolls into Beaver Stadium for the season opener.

Willis said he's not worried about the pressure but rather helping the younger players get better.

"I'm just trying to go out there and improve every day and keep getting better," Willis said.

"I want to lead by example on and off the field and be productive as possible. I want to show the young guys how to get better in the coming months."

While Willis didn't want to single anyone out, he did mention freshmen defensive backs Ryan Keiser and Tim Buckley as two players he's taken under his wing.

"Those guys are asking questions every day when they have them about schemes and practice and stuff. We're all in this together, watching film and stuff, to try and understand the defense as a whole," Willis said.

And there's no doubt the overall defense will be completely different this fall under first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof.

"Coach Roof's implemented a lot of things, and the Cover 3 is standard, but there are a lot of different techniques and looks we are having to learn about Coach Roof," Willis said.

"There's an amazing emphasis on turnovers, and every day in practice we are working on ripping the ball away from the ball carrier until the whistle blows, even if he's down."

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Greg Pickel writes for and Onward State. He's on Twitter as @GregPickel.
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