Yesterday, Lando went over the reasons to be optimistic about Penn State’s special teams. Quite frankly, it is hard to argue otherwise about the bright prospects for the special teams, which is why I wasn’t too thrilled when I realized that I would get stuck writing about reasons to be a Debbie Downer about this particular unit. Nonetheless, I gave it the old college try.
1. Still Looking For That Home-Run Threat In The Return Game
Penn State has not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since Chaz Powell took the opening kick of the 2011 season to the house against Indiana State. It’s been even longer since the last time a PSU player finished a punt return in the opposing end zone, as evidenced from the video below:
John Reid showed some promise early last season, particularly with his career-long 59 yard return at Pitt. However, things gradually fizzled out for Reid to the point where the coaching staff turned once again to Greg surefire-hands Garritty to be their fair catch specialist. Meanwhile, Miles Sanders saw most of his action as a true freshman returning kickoffs, averaging over 20 yards per return with a long of 48 yards. Sanders seems likely to continue with his role in returning kickoffs, but look for the punt returner job to be a wide-open battle between Reid, DeAndre Thompkins, Mark Allen, and Zechariah McPhearson amongst others.
2. A New Holder For Tyler Davis...
As fans, we take for granted that the placeholder on field goal and extra point attempts will cleanly field the snap from the center and place the ball with the laces out (cue the Ace Ventura references) within a split-second, allowing the kicker to boot it through the uprights. We only seem to notice the holder whenever things go horribly awry and they mishandle the snap.
With Chris Gulla having graduated, Tyler Davis will have a new holder in Billy Fessler. While Fessler surely is capable of being a reliable holder, it remains to be seen whether he and Davis will develop that same level of trust and timing that Gulla had. Judging strictly from the early returns in the Blue-White Game though, it seems that the Tyler Train will remain on the tracks, but keep an eye out on this during the season.
3. ...And A New Long Snapper For Blake Gillikin
I’ll admit, coming up with three reasons to be concerned with special teams was rather difficult, given how solid the kicking and punting was last season and the fact that Davis and Blake Gillikin are both returning. With Ty Yazujian having graduated though, the Nittany Lions will also find themselves with a new long snapper feeding the ball to Gillikin. Fifth-year senior Zach Ladonis and redshirt junior Kyle Vasey will battle it out for this spot, and whoever wins the job will have a very critical role to fill. PSU was fortunate to avert total disaster when Yaz sailed a snap over Gillikin’s head last year against Ohio State, as Gillikin was able to fall on the ball in the end zone to take a safety. However, in a season where expectations will be at their highest in nearly two decades, PSU cannot afford to have such mishaps occur if they want to post a record worthy enough of a College Football Playoff berth.