(Photo: Marlin Levison/Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Last year kicker Colin Wagner tied the school record of 5 made field goals in the 22-13 victory of Temple, and punter Anthony Fera impressed during his redshirt freshman campaign. He averaged 41.4 yards per punt, including a long of 74 against Iowa. However, heading into the Indiana game Fera had an emergency appendectomy allowing true freshman Alex Butterworth to come in and average 38.1 yards per punt over 12 punts, including a 50 yarder against Florida in the Outback Bowl.
This year, Special Teams will have a larger portion of new faces than any other unit. The loss of former kicker Colin Wagner and Brett Brackett, holder, has left a few question marks. To add to that, it has recently been mentioned by Joe Paterno that former kick returner Stephfon Green will not be returning to the team.
Place Kicker – Evan Louis / Sam Ficken – Many probably don’t remember the name Evan Louis, but he’s been on the team for three years now as a walk on WR/CB. During the short Blue-White game we saw a glimpse of him as he made a 20 yard field goal attempt in the monsoon. The most exciting part about him is that he is athletic, as evident by his stint at wide receiver and cornerback. Sources have indicated to us that Penn State is practicing a lot of trick plays with him, however whether or not they will implement them during the season has yet to be determined. The other possibility for place kicker is incoming freshman Sam Ficken. Both kickers have been receiving good reviews in practice from their teammates.
Punter – Alex Butterworth / Anthony Fera – It might surprise some people for me to put that I have placed Butterworth here, but we here at the NLD have reason to believe that he will start out the season and be given a shot to show if he has improved. His showing in the Capital One Bowl was an impressive one as he averaged 41 yards per punt and put one inside the 20. His position battle with Fera will be an interesting one to follow throughout the rest of pre-season.
Kickoffs – Anthony Fera – There is a reason why Fera was rated as the number two kicker coming out of high school, his a booming leg. More specifically, he has a leg strong enough to kick the ball off to the goal line with enough hang time for the coverage team to make the tackle. The 6-2 and 215lb Fera also doubled as a linebacker in high school. Don’t expect for many opposing teams to kick-offs returned for a touchdown this season.
Kick Returns – Chaz Powell and Shawney Kersey – Going into preseason workouts many of us expected Chaz Powell to be teamed up with Stephfon Green. However, for unknown reasons, Green is no longer with the team. Without knowing for sure who will take Green’s spot, our guess is Shawney Kersey, as he returned kicks against Florida and Ohio State. Both Kersey and Powell have the speed that always poses the threat of a touchdown.
Punt Returns – Justin Brown and Devon Smith – It’s pretty safe to say that these two will again be returning punts. We haven’t seen Justin Brown do much as far as making guys miss and being a big threat on punt returns, but he has been a solid set of hands, which will win Joe’s heart every time. The one athlete that will make the highlight reel return, however, is Devon Smith with his blistering speed and acceleration. During the Temple game he was tripped up around the 5 yard line by the punter before a questionable flag negated his return. I’m going to go ahead put my neck out there and say he returns one for a touchdown this year. Feel free to send me nasty, hate messages if he doesn’t.
Overall I would expect about the same production from Penn State’s special teams this year. The field position battle is one of the most important for football, and the solid punting and kick returning should continue on the same level as seen in years pasts. The big position to watch will be the place kicking, not only for if the ball goes through the uprights, but also to see if Joe Paterno gives the green light on the trick plays that we have been hearing about.