With the Blue-White Game inching closer, VBR continues its series of things to watch for during the game on Saturday.
Special teams have been a big problem area for the Nittany Lions over the past two seasons. Penn State has ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in kicking, punting, kick and punt returns and kick and punt coverage. New head coach James Franklin has a plan to change that. The Blue-White Game on Saturday will be the first opportunity to see Franklin’s new plan in action.
At a press conference on the first day of spring practice, Franklin addressed the issues on special teams that have plagued the team and what he thinks he can do to change them. In recent years, walk-ons were used a great deal on special teams at Penn State. However, Franklin plans on using more starters to fill the positions on special teams.
“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.
The Nittany Lions have several options when it comes to returning punts and kicks. Keep an eye on who does it Saturday.
Running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, wide receivers Gregg Garity, Richy Anderson, DeAndre Thompkins and defensive backs Jordan Lucas, Jesse Della Valle and Devin Pryor could all be in the mix. Walk-on running back Von Walker has experience from returning kicks last season, but could get left out this season. Thompkins, a true freshman and the fastest player on the team, could play a significant role on special teams this year.
When it comes to kicking, place kicker Sam Ficken returns for his third season as a starter. Though his struggles over the years have been well documented. However, he’s been impressive during practice so far this year. We’ll have to wait until Saturday to see if that carries over into a game situation.
Punter Alex Butterworth is now gone, meaning that someone new needs to step up and take over the punting duties. That will most likely be redhshirt freshman Chris Gulla. Keep an eye on him on Saturday to see if he was what it takes to help improve the Nittany Lions in punting yardage.
While special teams are not as glamorous as some other positions on a team, they are perhaps the most important. Penn State has to improve in that area, and it starts on Saturday.
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