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2021 Spring Position Preview: Special Teams

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The Nittany Lions return some talent, but must answer questions in certain spots.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Penn State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kicker

Jake Pinegar

Pinegar is well experienced as the team’s starting placekicker since 2017. He’s had his ups and downs, but finished the 2020 season strong after a rough start where he missed three of his first four attempts to begin the season. Pinegar has been streaky, oftentimes going on a bad stretch with several misses, only to turn things around with a hot streak. Pinegar’s career long is 49 yards, which came on a sloppy field against Iowa back in 2018. It will likely remain his career-long, as Jordan Stout takes over for field goal attempts of 50 yards or more. Stout was two-of-five in 2020, but all of his attempts have a high degree of difficulty. Stout holds the Penn State record for longest field goal made when he blasted a 57-yarder against Pitt in 2019.

Penn State also welcomes incoming true freshman Sander Sahaydak of Bethlehem, Pa. Sahaydak was ranked as the top kicker of the 2021 class by 247, and second-best in the nation based on their composite ranking. He should certainly push Pinegar if the senior has any further struggles this fall.

Kickoff Specialist

Jordan Stout

Penn State is in great hands with Stout kicking it deep. He typically blasted the ball out of the end zone, taking away any chance of a return. His kickoffs resulted in touchbacks 84% of the time, which is a major asset considering how many explosive returners do not have the opportunity to do any damage.

Punter

Jordan Stout

Stout’s abilities as a kickoff specialist didn’t quite translate to his new role as a punter in 2020. He averaged a pedestrian 41.5 yards, and had just three punts that traveled 50 or more yards in nine games. However, like most others last season, Stout had a lonely offseason where he was likely working out on his own. An offseason under standout special teams coordinator Joe Lorig could see a vast turnaround in helping Stout reach his immense potential.

Punt Returner

Jahan Dotson

Penn State may end up having the nation’s most dangerous punt returner with Dotson. He has a lethal first step, and has incredible vision that gives him a chance to break off a long return, even on his own. Seriously, just check out the return from the Michigan State game last fall:

It’s one of the best returns I’ve seen from a Nittany Lion, considering how many exceptionally talented return men would have been brought down before they even made it 10 yards, let alone slipping through the coverage to take it all the way for a score.

Kick Returner

???

Unless a depth chart is released ahead of the spring scrimmage later today, we may have to wait until getting a clearer picture on who will be back deep when Penn State opens the season at Wisconsin (!!!!!!) on September 4.

Dotson is the most enticing option, although he will already be carrying a major workload on offense and as punt returner. However, it’s not off the table when you consider that Saquon Barkley handled kickoff returns in addition to his standard 1,421 touches per game. Devyn Ford could be the most likely candidate when looking at experienced return men. He should have the capacity to handle returns while he splits carries on offense, but he also didn’t do anything to guarantee the spot entering the upcoming season. Parker Washington is another option with experience, but he is likely to become a much bigger focal point of the offense as opponents gameplan to slow down Dotson.

How about some new faces to consider? Baylor transfer running back John Lovett has some experience returning kicks, maintaining a 18.9 yard average on 15 career returns with the Bears. The staff could also dip into the secondary for some speedy options. Cornerback Keaton Ellis was an electrifying return man during his time at State College Area High School, and has the skills to be a dynamic return man at the next level. Another intriguing possibility is incoming freshman Kalen King, who has seemingly received the most buzz out of anyone on the roster during spring camp. James Franklin referred to King as the most advanced freshman he’s seen with the program since taking over in 2014, and with all of the praise coming from all directions, it seems as though the staff is itching to find ways to get him on the field this fall.