Franklin: Special Teams Are Still A Concern

James Franklin spoke about the state of special teams after practice Wednesday and delivered good and bad news in one fell swoop:

The Nittany Lions’ punting last year was an area of concern, and Franklin wasn’t able to assure the media that he’s found the fix quite yet. And while kicking was a strong suit last season, the legend Sam Ficken graduated but it looks like our favorite Joe Julius is on his way to claiming the starting spot.

As much fun as it may be to watch, the results that special teams may see this season (at least early on) look sketchy.

Returning at punter are Dan Pasquariello and Chris Gulla. The former ranked at No. 112 in the nation with 1,754 punting yards and the latter was No. 132 with 1,045. Obviously, splitting time resulted in lower statistics…is what I’d write if that actually would’ve made a difference. The punters combined for 2,799 yards, which would still only be No. 36 in the country. If you sort the nation’s punters by average, you see even scarier (albeit consistent) figures.

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So, those are the two guys competing for the starting spot again. They’re a year older and hopefully a year better, but fans shouldn’t expect to see the preseason No. 31 team winning games thanks to coffin corners — though that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a heated competition going on at every practice.

“[Daniel Pasquariello]’s in the lead but it’s close. Gulla’s really come on in the last week, but that’s still an area that we need to get cleaned up,” Franklin said. “We decided that we’re probably gonna emphasize special teams a little more in these next nine days to make sure we can get some of those areas more consistent and confident.”

Placekicking is a completely different story. Last year, Sam “Mr. Automatic” Ficken was as sure of a thing as you could hope for. Now, a cast of newcomers will try to replace him before elite prospect and private jet aficionado Quinn Nordin comes to Happy Valley in the Class of 2017.

Franklin and Special Teams Coordinator Charles Huff both mentioned at Media Day that the competition was going to come down to consistency and statistics, and that’s held true.

“I think [kicking]’s still a concern, right now we document everything from every single kick: the time the kick got off in operation, the time the punt got off in operation, the hang time, the ball location, the distance, everything,” Franklin said on Wednesday. “Joe Julius, statistically, is in the lead right now, but there’s inconsistency right now. I think Tyler [Davis] is right there with him. When I say he’s ahead statistically it’s close.”

It isn’t official who will take Penn State’s first kickoff next Saturday at Temple, and what the kick will look like is even less predictable. But it’s important to keep in mind that Penn State is still one of the nation’s youngest and most improved teams — and no matter who punts and who kicks, there’s nowhere for this team to go but up.

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Doug Leeson

Doug is a sophomore and Onward State's Assistant Managing Editor. Dislikes: popcorn, Rutgers, and a low #TimberCount. Likes: "Frozen," Rec Hall, and you. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @DougLeeson.

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