Penn State Football 2017 Position Preview: Special Teams

Grant Haley #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Grant Haley #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Penn State football’s 2017 Special Teams could be the top unit in the Big Ten.

Every Penn State football fan remembers the blocked kick against Ohio State last year that completely changed the course of the Nittany Lions’ football season.

While they may not be good for a season-altering play this year, the Nittany Lion special teams unit will be the most consistent, if not the best, unit in the Big Ten.

Let’s start with the leg responsible for splitting the uprights. Tyler Davis kicked his way to a First Team All-Big Ten selection last year going 62-62 on PAT’s. He was also impressive going 22-24 on field goals. There is no reason to expect anything less of Davis this season.

Penn State is rock solid at kicker, and the rockets should continue to fly off the cleat of punter Blake Gillikin in his sophomore season.

All Gillikin did during his rookie campaign was set a Penn State freshman record, averaging 42.8 yards per punt. That put the Penn State defense in great spots all year.

There is no question this is the best kicker/punter combo in the Big Ten.

Last years kickoff specialist, and occasional wrecking ball, Joey Julius, will not be joining the team in 2017. He continues to battle an eating disorder which was made public last season. Davis will be handling kickoff duties in his absence.

Under special teams coordinator Charles Huff, the kick coverage unit was exceptional last year, finishing second in the league. The only potential problem may lie in the return game.

It’s only a problem if there’s a solution.

When Penn State lost John Reid in the spring to a knee injury, they didn’t just lose a starting cornerback, but a reliable punt returner. This leaves punt returner as a spot for freshmen to potentially step up.

Lamont Wade will be fighting for the cornerback spot left vacant by Reid, but he also has the speed and shiftiness to be a dynamic returner. It would be remiss of me to mention the words speed and freshman and leave out KJ Hamler. Hamler has the makeup of an ideal return man because he possesses explosive speed and the vision to find a seam and be through it just as fast. They don’t call him “the human joystick” for nothing.

When you’re competing for a National Championship you cannot afford a freshman error in the return game. A muffed punt or mental lapse in a fair catch situation can cost a ballgame.

Thankfully, Penn State has some more seasoned weapons who can step up. Juniors DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk would both be able to make plays at punt returner. Thompkins may have the edge to win the job after running a 4.3 40 this offseason.

Miles Sanders will be the deep man on kickoffs. He showed promising flashes last year, and has the talent to become dominant this season.

Related Story: Penn State Position Preview: Offensive Line

Depth in the return game and lights out kicking and punting will be on display this season, even if it doesn’t translate to another heart-stopping moment for Penn State in 2017.