Jonathan Sutherland takes veteran approach to competition at safety
Jonathan Sutherland wants to keep his objectives simple this spring.
Entering his fifth season at Penn State, the veteran can lean on his experience where plenty of others can't, especially after the cancellation of spring football in 2020.
His mental map for this time of year leads to the basics, and that's where his focus lies as he competes for one of the starting safety spots.
"As a safety, you can always get better in your coverage, you can always become better in your tackling, and you can always become better in your communication," Sutherland said Wednesday morning.
Improving one's communication, especially at the safety position, comes from familiarity within the playbook, Sutherland explained.
General knowledge of his teammates' assignments is important to Sutherland's ability to communicate with them on Saturdays.
"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.
Sutherland is one of a handful of safeties competing to start alongside Jaquan Brisker when the Nittany Lions begin their season this fall.
And, from what has been said publicly, nothing has been decided there yet.
"There's a healthy competition," Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said earlier this spring. "Obviously Brisker is a solidified guy, but that other spot is wide open for three or four guys."
Among them, Sutherland is certainly the most experienced.
He's played 523 snaps for Penn State over the course of the last three seasons, including 152 snaps at safety a season ago.
In 2020, playing primarily at the strong safety position, Sutherland finished the season with 10 tackles and a sack. He never missed a tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.
He also didn't allow a reception, in what was a very limited sample. He was targeted six times on 73 coverage snaps and forced an incompletion each time.
Asked about what he needs to do to earn the starting spot, Sutherland explained that consistency is key.
"Just coming into work, coming into practice ready to work, and staying consistent," he said. "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."
A new aspect to this spring for Sutherland is a change at safeties coach, with Tim Banks leaving for Tennessee and Anthony Poindexter taking over.
Even that carries a hint of familiarity for Sutherland, though. Poindexter recruited Sutherland while he was coaching at UConn.
"With him being a new coach, I just get a whole new side of coaching," Sutherland said. "He's really helped me in pretty much every aspect, as far as giving life advice, to the Xs and Os, to the academics. He's just an all-around guy who's been really supportive. I'm thankful and I'm really excited to continue working with him."
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