It’s no secret that the Penn State Nittany Lions have struggled mightily on special teams recently. Last season, the Nittany Lions ranked 12th in the Big Ten in kickoff return average, ninth in punt return average and 10th in kickoff return yard average allowed. A large portion of those troubles can be attributed to the use of walk-ons on the special team units. Head coach James Franklin addressed that issue and his plan to improve it during his press conference on Monday.
Last year, former head coach Bill O’Brien chose to use several walk-ons for the special teams units. That was due in large part to the depth issues caused by scholarship reductions under the NCAA sanctions.
Franklin is aware of Penn State’s struggles over the last few years on special teams and knows it needs to get better. “Probably as excited about special teams as any area on the team because if you look at us statistically the last year or so, it’s the area for most improvement, I think”
He revealed his plan to use more starters than in years past.
It’s the area that we can make the biggest impact, and we’re committed to playing the best players on special teams. I think it was a little bit different philosophy in the past, and I think that dealt with the sanctions and things like that. That was a way they were going to try to solve it with the sanctions. I don’t believe in that. I believe we’re going to play our best players.
During the first spring practice, the possible changes on special teams could already be seen. Starting running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak were fielding kickoffs. Defensive back Devin Pryor was also taking kickoffs. Over at the punt return station, wide receivers Richy Anderson, DeAndre Thompkins, and Gregg Garrity were working along with defensive backs Jordan Lucas and Jesse Della Valle catching punts.
Thompkins could be in line to be a very important part of special teams this season. According to Franklin the true freshman is the fastest player on the team and will play on special teams if it’s determined he can help.
Special teams is an area that can often be overlooked on a team, but can be very important in determining wins and losses.
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