If the last few years is any indication, the Spring game won't feature much in the way of Special Teams. That likely will be music to the ears of many Penn State fans, who'll be biding their time for the summer football camp--when highly touted true freshmen Blake Gillikin (P) and Alex Barbir (K), both consensus 3 star recruits, step foot on campus, and, most figure, will have the best shot at taking over starting duties at their respective positions.
In the meantime, the Nittany Lions have all of their returning starters on Special Teams, from a unit that was dead last in the conference in extra points, second to last in extra points made, but fourth in field goals made. As for kickoff returns, that was a bright spot, despite the changing guard in the endzone, where the Lions ended up fifth in the conference with 21.9 yards per return.
And hey, there's always punting, right? Where Penn State was...12th, with an average of 39.3 ypp. Or punt returns, where they were also 12th with an average of 7.1 yards per return (at least that was closer to 10th place, which was 7.3, than 13th, at 3.5).
Here's to a better 2016.
After taking over the starting extra point and field goal duties, redshirt junior Tyler Davis was perfect for the line (11 of 11 for XP, 8 of 8 in field goals), with a long of 42 yards. He, like his fellow kickers, was inconsistent on kickoffs, and was utilized mostly for points.
Joey "Big Toe" Julius was the starter for all placekicking duties to start the season, until the yips got the better of him and he started shanking extra points, finishing the season 20 of 24 on extra points and 10 of 12 on field goals. The power of his kicks kept the redshirt sophomore in the mix for kickoffs, where he was solely used by the end of the season.
In 2015, punting was split between redshirt junior Chris Gulla and Aussie junior Daniel Pasquariello, depending on the situation, with Pasquariello's rugby-style directional kicks often better suited situationally. Pasquariello was the more prolific punter last season, finishing the year with 58 punts and a 39.9 average (including 12 inside the 20 yard line, and only 3 touchbacks), and a long of 60; Gulla, with a more traditional style, averaged 37.7 yards on 23 punts, having 2 touchbacks and 8 inside the 20 (and a long of 52). Neither had any punts blocked last season.
Senior 2nd team All-American Tyler Yazujian is back for long-snapping duties as well, for his third straight season. He's the most likely of the returning starters to not see his playing time diminish once the talented freshmen take the field.
In terms of return men, there was rotation in and out of the lineup throughout 2015, and all of the returners are back for the spring. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins was the most prolific punt returner on the team, bar none, returning 23 punts for 178 yards last season; despite a few fumbles, he should be the team's best option this spring. In mop-up time, redshirt sophomore running back Mark Allen took some punt return duties.
Redshirt sophomore safety Koa Farmer was the most electric kick returner when he took the field in that position in 2015, but he split time for much of the season, only fielding 18 kicks for 405 yards. Averaging a better yard per catch was redshirt sophomore now-cornerback Nick Scott, who fielded 13 kicks of his own. Rounding out the top performers in the endzone during kickoffs was redshirt sophomore wide receiver Brandon Polk, who fielded ten kicks of his own in 2015. Thompkins may see more time in the kickoff return game this year, especially if Scott sees more time in the cornerback rotation.
As many of these players will be reserves in these positions themselves come fall 2016, there's not much to say in this placeholder of a few paragraphs. Gulla himself saw time as a backup kicker in 2015, so he'd be a reserve at that position.
For punt returns, senior linebacker Von Walker and senior wide receiver Gregg Garrity are good options to fair catch, which they did numerous times in 2015. Redshirt senior safety Malik Golden has been a backup for kickoff returns, and will likely continue to serve in that role.
Look for some younger guys who redshirted in 2015--like Juwan Johnson or Irvin Charles--to see time early on in this role, if they can't break into the starting lineup at wideout (which may be a big if).