Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland has seen just about everything over the past four seasons of his career. He has seen winning and losing, quarterbacks come and go, coaches come and go and everything in between. It’s all normal for Sutherland at this point, a player who comes across as quiet and reserved but commands the respect and attention of his teammates whenever he speaks.
Entering a fifth season, it would be hard to surprise Sutherland with something new, but a lot of that inability to be surprised comes down to how he goes about his business.
“Just coming into work, coming into practice ready to work, and staying consistent,” Sutherland said on Wednesday. “It’s really that simple”
“Preparation, taking care of your body, making sure you’re available, and obviously staying in the playbook, making sure that you’re ready to make all the appropriate checks, knowing not only my position but the positions around me, and knowing what other guys are doing on the field, and just working hard and continuing to work.”
Of course working with new safeties coach Anthony Poindexter following the departure of Tim Banks means at least one thing will be new for Sutherland, but he’s not worried about rolling with the punches. Instead he’s focused on the one thing he hasn’t really done in his career, and that’s truly fight for the starting role [one start in 35 appearances]. Sutherland will see the field either way, but there’s a real chance he could work alongside assumed starter Jaquan Brisker in the spot vacated by Lamont Wade.
But like all veteran players, Sutherland knows not to take anything for granted. So in the meanwhile, he is going to spend his time preparing and watching film, get better at communication and recognition and take care of all the little details. Sutherland might be the most tenured guy in the room, but that doesn’t mean he can’t get better.
“When I say communication, that’s diving into the playbook and going beyond and learning beyond what your responsibility is, as well as the ‘backers, but also the D-line and the corners, and just seeing how that all fits together perfectly,” he said.
Of course Sutherland isn’t the only one hoping to see the field at safety, fellow senior Ji’Ayir Brown who enrolled at Penn State last year after time spent in Lackawanna junior college is as good of a shot to see that starting role as any. As a result the good news is that Penn State has plenty of options at safety, even beyond Sutherland and Brown. The bad news of course is that only so many of them can play at once.
“It’s more of a mind-set now, like a mentality thing,” Brown said on Tuesday. “So I go into practice, I go into places I’ve never been before with just that mentality/mindset. I’m an underdog here. Nobody expects me to do anything. I have to earn everything I get. So that’s been my mentality since high school just earn everything you get, nothing is given.”
All told the competition between Sutherland and Brown is a story of Penn State football’s own growth following the NCAA sanctions. Where one-sided practices and a depth chart without actual depth once stood, now there are position rooms full of choices. It’s always good to have a clear cut No. 1 at every position, but the head coach James Franklin and the rest of his staff are a far better program when they’re forced to make choices rather than being forced to settle.