Recruited as a safety three years ago, Powell has to date seen his only game action at wide receiver. Even had 28 catches in 2009, fourth-most on the team. Took one of them 79 yards for a touchdown on the Lions' first play against Iowa -- far and away the highlight of that ragged 21-10 loss -- and accounted for 366 yards and three scores over the course of the season.
But he moved to cornerback this spring, and was happy to do so.
“It hasn't been hard for him,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
“He's just a natural athlete,” holdover corner D'Anton Lynn said. “I think defense might be where he's meant to be.”
Powell's teammates did not hesitate to remind him of that when he saw a second-quarter interception of Matt McGloin's pass squirt through his hands, with nothing but green grass in front of him.
“As soon as he came off the field, all of us kind of busted his butt a little bit about that,” Lynn said.
“They were saying, 'That's why they switched you from wideout,' ” Bradley said with a chuckle.
As Powell said, “My eyes got big, and it went right through my hands. … A lot of the guys got on my case for dropping it. But things like that happen. You've just got to shake it off and get ready for the next play.”
Which is sort of how it is at corner. At no other position is the next play-next play-next play mantra more useful, given all the bad stuff that seems to happen to those manning the position.
“You're out there on an island,” Powell said.
And it's best to pack the SPF 50, because everyone gets burned there. Everyone.
“You've just got to be tough, and just come up and hit,” Powell said. “Just trust your keys and hopefully when the ball's thrown, you make a play on it.”
Powell started at right corner for the Blue Saturday, which featured the second-string defense. And afterward Bradley lauded him for his aggressiveness and for being “football knowledgeable.” At the same time the coordinator said it is not etched in stone that Powell will remain on defense, come this fall.
“That's up to the coach,” Bradley said, obviously referring to Joe Paterno.
The issue as Bradley sees it is how satisfied Paterno is with the wide receivers. And before Saturday's game Paterno did say they have to catch the ball better. At the same time he seemed more than satisfied with Powell's work on defense.
“I think that's worked out well,” Paterno said. “He's had a lot of enthusiasm, and I think that secondary right now is going to be pretty good.”
The returning starters are Lynn at right corner and Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino at safety, though there have been a couple asterisks this spring -- one involving Astorino's recovery from shoulder surgery, the other concerning Lynn's desire to transfer.
“It crossed my mind,” Lynn said of the latter issue, “but it definitely wasn't like it was blown up to be.”
He wouldn't say exactly what the problem was, but Paterno mentioned something about Lynn's switch from safety when he arrived at Penn State -- it is, he said after the game, his natural position -- to corner. The coach also said he had met with Lynn and his father Anthony, a former NFL player and current assistant coach with the Jets, to iron things out.
It was, the coach said, “a good session.”
“He's fine,” Paterno said of the younger Lynn. “He's really had a good spring -- an outstanding spring.”
All of it at corner. Lynn said that while it “took … a while to adjust” when he first moved there, he's comfortable at the position now.
“And I know playing cornerback's going to help me more in the long run,” he said.
As for Astorino, he was held out of spring drills, but said he is on schedule to return in time for preseason camp.
That leaves left corner. Stephon Morris got some work there last year, behind the departed A.J. Wallace, and figures to get first crack at the starting spot. But Powell will likely be in the mix, too -- and if not there, then certainly at nickel.
And he remains eager to make the most of the opportunity. More than he made of the one he had Saturday.