Kicker/Punter Anthony Fera launches the opening kickoff of Penn State's win over Iowa 13-3, Oct. 8, 2011. (BSD/Mike Pettigano)
Tough to think the Blue White Game is less than two weeks from now. Let's hope its long tradition of welcoming a spring rain storm will not recur this time around. But one tradition we can welcome is previewing each position group heading into the scrimmage. Will most, or even half, of this stuff be relevant come fall camp? Not really. But we're all curious to look at where the team stands right now, and some of the names to look for in the first and second quarters. Shoot, we might even see the first and second teams out there a bit longer this year, considering this team apparently needs all the practice it can get.
Today we're starting the countdown from what is usually the final positions previewed in these kinds of things: The Oh-So Special Teams.
Penn State hasn't exactly excelled at making the Special Teams a big, game-changing part of winning football games. Sure there have been years here or there with great special teams play. But Happy Valley played no Beamer Ball under Joe Paterno. Things became so bad that the lack of a Special Teams coach, or regular practice of this major aspect of the game, became a running joke among the fan base.
Now with the #BOBSLED rolling on, things could change in a hurry...
"We will work them all, call them the big four, it's really the big six because it includes field goal, field goal block. But we will work the big four, kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return and we will put our base schemes in and will work very hard... So we will work very hard on special teams, we will work every day on it."- Bill O'Brien via GoPSUSports.com
More below the jump...
|More Blue-White Countdown 2012…|
|Special Teams (Mike) - 4.9.12|
|Defensive Backfield (Cari) - 4.10.12|
|Linebackers (Mike) - 4.11.12|
|Defensive Line (Jared) - 4.12.12|
|Offensive Line (Devon) - 4.13.12|
|Tight Ends (Jeff) - 4.16.12|
|Wide Receivers (Jeff) - 4.17.12|
|Running Backs (Mike) - 4.18.12|
|Quarterbacks (Kyle) - 4.19.12|
Now that the Special Teams will get some attention--along with a new, living, breathing position coach--fans can hope for improvement, or at least annual stability, from this unit.
Anthony Fera - RS JR (incumbent)
Sam Ficken - SO
Fera did an admirable job last year as both kicker and punter, but was only put in that position as a necessity. Both Sam Ficken and Evan Lewis stunk on field goals, going 1-for-6 in the first few games. Fera finished the season making 14 of 17 field goals, and connecting on all 20 extra points (yes, Penn State only attempted 28 total extra points last year). He's also been the go-to guy on kickoffs. His strong leg consistently pins opponents at their own 20 yard line, sometimes deeper.
Not much else is known about Ficken. If he can improve with some actual coaching, look for him to take over the placekicking duties from Fera. But expect both to split attempts in the Blue-White Game.
Alex Butterworth - JR
Butterworth has seen time in the two years on the team. He hasn't had many opportunities to shine, but hasn't been noticeably under par. Best bets here are for Fera to return as punter and kickoff specialist. So Butterworth will have to sit tight as the backup. Same as the kicking situation, both should see plenty of time in the Blue-White Game.
Bill Belton - RB, SO
Alex Kenney - CB, SO
Adrian Amos - DB, SO
Justin Brown - WR, SR
This is kind of a "well, this guy did some last year, so let's go with him" breakdown here. These guys are likely to get some return work this spring and in the Blue-White Game. Not sure how you/we can really analyze something that's so enigmatic as who will be returning kicks and punts.
Some key players to watch for this spring would be the young guys, like redshirt freshmen and sophomores. But also, O'Brien hinted that some key starters would play on coverage units. And while that's kind of scary to think of, it could provide a boost to the unit. Some of the names I'll be looking for in the spring practice reports would be:
Adrian Amos, Ben Kline, Kyle Carter, Johnathan Duckett, Mike Hull, Ryan Keiser, Brian Irvin, James Van Fleet, Brad Bars, and Kyle Baublitz. Not all of them are young guys, but they could play big roles this season on Special Teams. Some of Penn State's best players emerged via coverage unit action. So don't sleep on this crew.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Cari's look at the defensive backfield. Scary stuff, I assure you.