Penn State Football’s Overhauled Special Teams Unit Taking Shape Through Fall Camp’s Early Stages

Special teams coordinator Stacy Collins has his work cut out for him during the remainder of training camp leading up to the 2023 campaign.

This year, Penn State football is searching for a new placekicker and punter after the departures of Barney Amor and Jake Pinegar left the Nittany Lions’ specialist stable empty-handed.

Prior to the Blue-White Game, Collins said redshirt sophomore Sander Sahaydak and senior transfer Alex Felkins were in the midst of a competition for the placekicker spot, while freshman Alex Bacchetta and senior transfer Riley Thompson were battling it out for the starting punter role. Currently, both battles still loom in the balance.

Nearing the squad’s fourth fall camp practice session, Collins’ main objective is fostering the young talent possessed in both position rooms.

“I love watching the guys we have from a special team standpoint continue to grow and develop from the fundamentals of the scheme,” Collins said. “We’ll continue to master those fundamentals as we develop the schemes throughout this camp.”

As the newer players begin to familiarize themselves with the program in Felkins and Thompson, Collins says consistency is key in the pursuit of any special teams starting job. Moreover, Collins mentioned situational scrutiny could be the main differentiator in deciding who trots out on fourth down at the placekicker position this fall.

“We’re looking for consistency overall, I would say that for all of special teams,” Collins said. “Right now, our focus from a situational standpoint is to continue to put these guys in different situations. I would say this right now for both Sahaydak and Felkins, they’re striking the ball extremely well.”

During this year’s Blue-White Game, only one field goal was attempted. Felkins handled the rep with poise and drilled the 22-yard chance for the Blue Team.

On the other side of the ball striking department, Collins says the punters are developing nicely, as Gabriel Nwosu and Mitchell Groh have solidified themselves into the mix for the top spot.

“Alex [Bacchetta] got a chance to give us some reps last year, just like Riley [Thompson] did during the spring,” Collins said. “Gabe [Nwosu] has done a nice job, and Mitch Groh’s here too.”

The growth of the punting battle from two to four potential players comes on the heels of an abysmal performance during the Blue-White Game. Thompson was called on only once during the game, where he booted a 62-yarder, the lone bright spot for the punters. Bacchetta punted five times with a long of 38 yards and an average of 33.4 yards, while Mitch Groh kicked a 38-yarder in his only attempt.

Despite a disappointing showing, Collins said the punters are growing and positively adjusting to the preseason grind.

“I like the growth and development that all four of those guys are showing,” Collins said. “There’s so many different situational punts that you work into and I love the work these guys are putting in.”

The return game, similar to the punting group, is a deep group that may rely on a more situational approach based on down-and-distance.

Last year, Nick Singleton fielded the majority of kickoff returns, amassing 349 yards and one touchdown on 14 return attempts. Conversely, Kaytron Allen and Omari Evans each returned two kickoffs apiece.

Allen ended the season with 37 return yards, while Evans finished with 33. After Evans’ breakout performance in the Blue-White Game, he’s expected to have a larger role on both the offense and special teams units.

“A lot of guys, like Omari Evans, he’s got really good speed,” Collins said. “We’ve got a great crew of young guys that will continue to work and develop.”

Overall, Collins has been impressed with his group thus far and knows the passion and work ethic from his players will be exciting to watch throughout the rest of camp.

“The efforts been the biggest part of the first three practices and as we head into the fourth today, the part we’re going to continue to watch,” Collins said. “They’ve got great energy, and they give great effort.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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