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An Early Look At Penn State Football’s Special Teams Unit

Despite being ranked as the fourth-best team in the Big Ten ahead of the 2018 season by outlets like Athlon Sports, big things are expected of James Franklin’s Nittany Lions this season. While Franklin once again boasts a tremendous amount of talent on his roster, this season’s Nittany Lions lack the game-time experience the team has had in recent years.

Young players across the roster will be asked to step up and fill the voids left behind by others who have moved on this offseason. Luckily for Penn State fans, Franklin has recruited exceptionally since arriving in Happy Valley.

We already took a look at the offense and the defense, so now we’re breaking down the special teams unit that coordinator Phil Galiano will deploy this fall.


This may be the most uncertain position on Penn State’s roster heading into next season. With Tyler Davis graduated and Alex Barbir leaving the team on a transfer, the Nittany Lions don’t currently have a scholarship kicker on the roster.

Incoming freshman Jake Pinegar has a very strong leg, but is still considered to be a little raw and will have little time with the team before the season begins. Pinegar’s most likely path to early playing time will be on the kickoff unit this season. There he can best utilize his strong leg without needing to worry about being as precise as a normal place kicker.

Carson Landis is the current frontrunner for the place kicker job according to James Franklin and his coaching staff. Landis is taking the majority of reps as both the field goal specialist and kickoff specialist and has even been working as the backup punter to Blake Gillikin.

Other options currently on the roster for Penn State include walk-ons Nick DeAngelis as well as punter Blake Gilikin, who has looked good in field goal efforts in front of the media. There probably won’t be much clarity on the kicking situation until later this summer when all of the new pieces to the puzzle have arrived on campus.


As uncertain as the kicking position is, James Franklin can rest easy knowing that he’ll have Blake Gillikin returning for his third season as a Nittany Lion.

Gillikin has proven to be a weapon for Penn State the last couple of seasons. Routinely pinning teams deep inside their own territory and being able to dramatically alter the starting field position of the opponent, the punter is as good as they come in the college game.

Kick Returner

Galiano must decide who among his group of talented playmakers will replace Saquon Barkley at this spot next season. Replacing Barkley will be no small task, but luckily for Galiano, he’s not short on options.

Miles Sanders featured as a primary kick returner during his freshman season, and is Galiano’s most experienced option. As Franklin showed last year with Barkley, he isn’t afraid to give one of his primary offensive contributors time on special teams.

Other options include DeAndre Thompkins, Lamont Wade, Donovan Johnson, K.J. Hamler, and incoming freshman Ricky Slade. Fans could even see Brandon Polk, who was back deep various times during his freshman season, make a return given his electric speed.

Punt Returner

Thompkins served as the primary punt returner last season for Penn State, and should be considered the favorite to do so again this season.

However, with John Reid returning from an ACL injury he suffered during spring practice last year, Thompkins will have some competition for the role. Two seasons ago it was Reid, not Thompkins, who returned most of the punts. Reid said he felt fantastic in practice while working on his return game.

Whoever Penn State decides to send back to field punts next season, having two experienced options will only benefit the Nittany Lions.

Coverage Units

With players like Cameron Brown, Lamont Wade, Garret Taylor, and Nick Scott being asked to take on larger roles in Brent Pry’s defense, a few spots on the coverage units are going to become available this season. Galiano spoke about the impact of recruiting on the special teams unit back in December.

“One of the things we do well is we play with speed and we play fast. That’s helped us a bunch this year,” Galvani said. “I think with the recruits we’re bringing in that’s only going to get better.”

This season’s coverage units will offer an opportunity for early playing time for youngsters across the roster. Those who can’t crack the rotation or only get limited play at their preferred position will have the opportunity to make an impact on the special teams unit this season.

Young talents like Isaiah Humphries and Jordan Miner could see time on the coverage unit given their respective sizes and quickness. If Jonathan Sutherland, who has been raved about by the coaching staff throughout the spring, doesn’t factor into much game time on defense, he could be another key contributor on special teams.

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About the Author

Matthew Fox

Matt is a Senior from Lansdale Pennsylvania majoring in Broadcast Journalism. He loves sports, and is still patiently waiting for the Philadelphia Flyers to win a Stanley Cup. If you would ever like to reach out to Matt you can email him at [email protected]


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