Safety Nick Sukay hasn't played a down of college football, so it's quite an accomplishment that he's secured a starting job at No. 9 Penn State.
He's not the only rookie starter in Happy Valley. With the Nittany Lions debuting a new secondary in the season opener Saturday against Akron, Penn State fans are wondering just how they'll hold up against the pass.
Zips coach J.D. Brookhart thinks the newcomers will do just fine.
"I know they have questions marks, or they appear to have question marks in the secondary, but they have five-star players who just haven't played a lot of football yet," Brookhart said this week.
That's especially true of Sukay, a highly recruited prospect in 2007 from western Pennsylvania. After redshirting a year, he missed all of 2008 because of right foot surgery.
Sukay also has been hampered by shoulder pain, but he's healthy again and is seizing the opening created by the departure of last year's starter, Mark Rubin.
"Well, Sukay has been hurt a lot, so it appears he's come out of nowhere, which really hasn't been accurate," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "He's always had tremendous potential ... So he's never really had the opportunity to show what he can do."
Last year's fifth defensive back, sophomore Drew Astorino, takes over at free safety, while senior Knowledge Timmons and sophomore D'Anton Lynn are the new cornerbacks.
At least for now, while Paterno decides what to do with senior A.J. Wallace. He's arguably the team's most talented defensive back, though he found a spot in Paterno's infamous doghouse this preseason for cutting classes.
Paterno said last month that Wallace might miss the first two games of the year as punishment. JoePa softened his stance this week and said Wallace may play Saturday after the cornerback achieved certain grades and abided by other rules he set.
After Wallace, Penn State is otherwise young or even more inexperienced in the secondary. They could be tested by a veteran Akron offense that features a third-year starter in QB Chris Jacquemain and four returning receivers.
"There's been a lot of talk about us. We have to go prove ourselves," Astorino said. "There's going to be mistakes made ... but we're going to work harder."
They should also benefit from a solid front seven.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley doesn't like to blitz, so the D-line will be counted on to pressure the quarterback, and the impressive linebacking corps must contain the running game and cover short passing routes.
Top outside linebackers Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman have shown plenty of ability to handle those jobs.
Factor in returning middle linebacker Josh Hull's experience and quality depth in Bani Gbadyu and Nathan Stupar, and it's easy to see why Paterno hadn't even decided on who might play nickel back earlier this week.
"If our linebackers can play the way we think, and they can be outside linebackers that can walk away from the line of scrimmage and help on the pass game, we may not use a nickel," Paterno said. "A lot will depend on how a couple kids in the secondary come along."
NOTE: Reserve linebacker Jon Ditto is no longer with the Nittany Lions, and the team did not say why. A team spokesman said Thursday it appeared Ditto would stay at the university as a student. The sophomore from Monroeville was buried on the depth chart at the team's deepest position.