Eight of Penn State’s 11 defensive starters from the 2017 season-ending victory over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl have moved on from the program. That includes all four first-teamers in the secondary, the middle linebacker and a pair of veteran defensive tackles. So if there is a theme for coordinator Brent Pry’s unit as the 2018 season opener approaches (Sept. 1 vs. Appalachian State at Beaver Stadium), it has boiled down to one word.

“(We’re) working on chemistry, especially on defense,” linebacker Koa Farmer said. “We lost a lot of starters.”

Farmer, who started every game at outside linebacker in 2017, was speaking at Penn State’s Lift for Life event last weekend. To a man, the rest of the defensive players made available to the media hit on that very same theme. With camp slated to start in early August, the Nittany Lions are anxious to continue what they’ve worked on in the winter, spring and now the summer.

“We're getting some cohesion now,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye explained. “Definitely after a couple weeks in camp, we'll get that chemistry going. ... It shouldn't take too long.

“Last year it got to the point where we’d do something so subtle that everyone on the defense knew what we were doing,” he added. “Just have to get that chemistry like that.”

Truth be told, it probably is not fair to say Penn State will be missing eight defensive starters when the 2018 season kicks off.

Take Oruwariye. While it is true he did not start any games a year ago, he actually logged the sixth most snaps of anyone on defense (472 according to Pro Football Focus) and led the Nittany Lions in interceptions (four). Returning tackle Kevin Givens played six fewer snaps (393) than starter Parker Cothren (396).

The ace in the hole for the Penn State defense is redshirt junior defensive back John Reid. He missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury. But in 2016, he was the Nittany Lions’ best defensive back, playing corner and nickel. His PFF pass coverage rating of 7.5 was by far the best on the team, as nobody else rated higher than a 3.1.

Reid said he is back at full strength now. After spending last season basically as an extra coach in the secondary, he brings a unique perspective to the unit.

“I think guys have just gotta get a lot reps,” he said of the importance of camp. “We do have a lot of young guys.”

Reid is known for being a film junkie. The data sciences major is also a computer whiz. But when camp rolls around in less than a month, he’ll be worried about a different subject.

"Just to get that chemistry as a defense and everyone's on the same page,” Reid said. “I remember last year, guys that had played with each other for so long that we were checking into things — when you look at someone and they already knew what we were checking into. There's the communication to make sure you're letting them know, but there's already a feeling that we know what we're doing; everybody's moving on a string.

“So when we're bringing that many more people into the starting lineup, you've got to make sure that chemistry is there, and that's just a lot of reps,” he added.

The veteran defenders agreed that informal summer workouts — which feature 7-on-7 sessions against the offense — are helping build the chemistry. So did the 15 spring practices. But there is no substitute for fall camp.

"It doesn't really take longer than that day three for everyone to pretty much be on the same page because the installs are coming quick in camp,” Reid said. “So most of the guys are in the dorms talking to each other about, ‘How are we playing this defense? How are y'all doing this? How are we going to do if we get this call? How are you checking this?’ Everyone gets together communicating, so it comes together quick."