Joe Lorig, Penn State Football Tasked With Replacing Key Special Teams Talent In 2020

After Penn State football released its spring 2020 depth chart this weekend, special teams remained the most talked-about area of the Nittany Lions’ roster.

It began with some initial confusion on who the kick returner was, as Micah Parsons seemed poised to become the starter. That was amended a few hours later, as special teams coordinator Joe Lorig explained to the media on Tuesday morning.

“That was just a perception thing,” Lorig said. “I saw the first two guys listed as the two returners that would be on the field, which is accurate. It would be Journey Brown and Micah Parsons. Who’s the returner? It depends on which way the opposing team kicks the ball.”

Even with the depth chart fix, Lorig and the rest of the coaching staff have great talent to replace on special teams. The first two names that come to mind when considering this are obviously returner KJ Hamler and punter Blake Gillikin.

Hamler served as Penn State’s punt and kick off returner for the past two seasons. With his departure to the NFL, the talented wide receiver now leaves that role to Parsons and Brown on kickoffs and Jahan Dotson or Marquis Wilson on punts. Besides Brown, most of those players have little to no experience on special teams (especially Parsons), but Lorig remains confident that there won’t be a drop off in production.

In fact, the special teams coordinator explained that Hamler’s talent as a returner almost limited his production towards the end of his career.

“People just didn’t kick and punt to us, and when they did, the punters were often times scared,” Lorig said. “We only had 21 returnable punts last year, and people just didn’t kick off to us very often either. KJ’s phenomenal, but I actually expect better production from those units because I think people won’t know as much about our guys.”

There’s no arguing Hamler was an electric return man, but Lorig is right in considering that teams know much less about Parsons and Brown. The latter returned just three kicks last season, while Parsons has never spent time on special teams. However, their shared athleticism could result in some big-time returns (literally). Brown was a noted track star in high school, while Parsons ran a 4.41 40-yard dash. Suffice to say, speed won’t be an issue.

Stepping into Blake Gillikin’s former role will likely be Jordan Stout. He is currently slated to be the starting punter while remaining as kickoff specialist and attempting long-range field goals. Lorig also confirmed that Stout will compete to hold for Jake Pinegar’s short-range field goals.

While he’ll clearly be a busy man, Lorig has no shortage of confidence in the transfer from Virginia Tech, as he described him as a “combo guy.” Lorig explained that he and other coaches were looking at punters to add to their most recent recruiting class, but couldn’t find one “that fit Penn State.”

“Between Coach Franklin and myself and some of the kicking instructors that I respect, we just didn’t think there was a guy that fit those boxes last year,” Lorig said. “It also turns out, in watching Jordan through the fall and summer last year, we wouldn’t have gotten a punter that was better than him anyways.”

While Gillikin was a mainstay at Penn State, Lorig is expecting the same level of production from Stout. The second-year special teams coordinator is ready for his punter and his group as a whole to continue playing at a high standard.

“I don’t think there will be any question as to whether Jordan is good enough to fill in for Blake,” Lorig said. “Obviously Blake was fantastic, that’s nothing to minimize his value, I just think Jordan’s that good also.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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