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Projecting Penn State Football’s 2022 Starting Lineup: Special Teams

Penn State special teams coordinator Stacy Collins said it best at the Nittany Lions’ Media Day: “You don’t just replace Jordan Stout.”

In his first year in this new role, Collins will attempt to do exactly that by the time Penn State’s September 1 date with Purdue rolls around. While Stout’s presence in field goal kicking, punting, and kickoffs will certainly be missed, Penn State has no shortage of talent — nor a shortage of competition — in his wake.

With three punters, three kickers, and a whole lot of speedy return options in tow, Collins has plenty of tough decisions to make on the special teams side of the ball. A former starter, a 6’6″ punter, and plenty of brand new faces are in the mix.

While Penn State’s special teams units may shuffle around throughout the year, we offered our most educated guesses at what the initial depth chart will look like this season.

Placekicker

  • Starters: Jake Pinegar, Sander Sahaydak
  • Reserve: Mitchell Groh

In 2020, Penn State’s mantra for choosing a kicker was “42 and in, it’s Pin. 42 and out, it’s Stout,” which meant that Jake Pinegar managed all kicking duties for field goals 42 yards or less, while Stout took care of the long-range drives. This year, you can probably expect a similar situation.

Pinegar started for three years with the Nittany Lions before losing the job fully to Stout in 2021 and opting for a redshirt. While he has been up and down throughout his career, the redshirt senior boasted a near-92% kicking percentage in 2019 on 12 attempts. He’s been the go-to guy in practice thus far this preseason, so you can likely expect him to manage the shorter kicks and extra points.

Sahaydak, a redshirt freshman, was tabbed as a five-star recruit by Kohl’s Kicking and brings plenty of talent and competition to the room. He developed a knack for hitting long-range field goals throughout the recruiting process, which makes him a likely candidate to handle those for Penn State or even win the entire job over from Pinegar.

Kickoffs

  • Starter: Gabriel Nwosu
  • Reserves: Sander Sahaydak, Alex Bacchetta

Nwosu, a 6′ 6″, 276-pound redshirt freshman, could very well have the biggest leg of the kicking bunch and has a good shot at winning the starting role. Collins added at Media Day that Sahaydak, Pinegar, and true freshman Alex Bacchetta have been in the mix, too. But, with Pinegar’s past struggle with long kicks, it doesn’t feel probable that he’ll assume that role this season.

Punter

  • Starter: Alex Bacchetta
  • Reserves: Barney Amor, Gabriel Nwosu

Based on raw talent and recruiting profile, true freshman Alex Bacchetta feels like the favorite at punter, although this could turn into a by-committee approach depending on early results.

Bacchetta earned a five-star Kohl’s Kicking rating at both punting and kicking, with scouts raving about his maturity and development for his age. It’s not super common for true freshmen to win starting jobs at any position, but punter seems like the most likely spot for it to happen.

Nwosu and redshirt senior+ Barney Amor remain in a good spot to take on this role, too. Nwosu’s big leg comes with big appeal, while Amor’s veteran status might be a safe option for Penn State.

Kick Return

  • Starter: Devyn Ford
  • Reserves: Daequan Hardy, Omari Evans, Nick Singleton

Junior running back Devyn Ford feels like the best choice here, as he often lined up to return kicks in 2021 as well. Nowadays, returning kicks in college football is basically calling for fair catches and hauling balls in. Ford has never fumbled in his career, so he’ll continue to be a solid option moving forward.

Cornerback Daequan Hardy along with true freshmen Omari Evans and Nick Singleton were mentioned by Collins as guys who’ve gotten work here as well.

Punt Return

  • Starter: Parker Washington
  • Reserves: Mitchell Tinsley, Marquis Wilson

Jahan Dotson’s departure leaves a sizeable hole at punt returner, and speedy receiver Parker Washington seems like a natural replacement. He has good hands and a knack for the occasional highlight play.

Although it wasn’t necessary last year, Penn State has utilized multiple returners in the past. Speedy transfer receiver Mitchell Tinsley could be a good option to haul in punts with a higher chance of return. Marquis Wilson’s versatile athletic ability makes him a solid option, too.

Gunner

  • Starters: Malick Meiga, Daequan Hardy
  • Reserves: Johnny Dixon, Keaton Ellis, Marquis Wilson

Penn State will have to replace both Drew Hartlaub and AJ Lytton at the gunner role, which is quite an underrated and important part of the punt game. The above depth chart is how Collins laid it out at media, but essentially, the fastest guys on the team with the best hands are going to come away with the starting job here.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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