Penn State Football Early Position Preview 2016: Special Teams

The VBR early position previews for the 2016 edition of Penn State football concludes with a look at the special teams.

I’m pretty sure I know what most of you readers are thinking right now, “What special teams?”.  It’s true that this unit has ranged from mediocre at best to downright dreadful the past two seasons under head coach James Franklin.  Poor starting field position due to bad kickoff returns, putting the defense in bad situations by giving up too many yards on punts or kicks, numerous missed field goals and extra points are just some of the few things that have plagued this unit.

The scholarship limitations have really been felt with the special teams unit.

For this upcoming season, things could start to improve for the special teams and its coordinator, Charles Huff.

For starters, Franklin and Huff made the special teams a point of emphasis in this year’s recruiting class.  While the Nittany Lions might have missed out on kicker Quinn Nordin, who eventually flipped his commitment to Michigan, they signed an excellent kicker in Alex Barbir.  They also signed the No. 2 punter in the country, Blake Gillikin.  Both will compete for the starting jobs at their respective positions this summer and I have a good feeling that both will be starting come this fall.

Penn State has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown in four years and a punt for a touchdown in seven years.

While the Nittany Lions have a lot of speed in the return game now, they need to start capitalizing on it.  DeAndre Thompkins, Koa Farmer, Nick Scott, and Brandon Polk all can run.  But there were no scores last season, and they only averaged 22 yards per return, with the longest of 58 yards being notched by Scott. Scoring touchdowns or even getting better field position will take pressure off the offense.

While the return game hasn’t been great, the kick coverage has been even worse.

The Nittany Lions allowed several big plays last season, including two kickoff returns for touchdowns.  One was especially troublesome in the two point loss at Northwestern.  Without giving up that touchdown, the Nittany Lions win that game. Penn State has allowed three kickoff return touchdowns in their last 15 games.  Wrap tackling and better kick and punt coverage must be an emphasis this spring.

With the return of a full 85 scholarship roster, the special teams unit should benefit greatly.  While it is still a work in progress, expect this unit to make strides this fall and not be the liability that it has been in recent seasons.

2016 Penn State Early Position Previews

• Quarterback

• Running Back 

• Tight End

• Offensive Line 

• Wide Receiver

• Defensive Line 

• Linebacker