Penn State Football: The Specialists
Whether that translates on the field or not remains to be seen. As mentioned, the expectations have been ramped up and anything less than performing at the highest level is a recipe for disaster for a squad that has championship aspirations. Lucky for us we have Dr. McDreamy, err, I mean, one of the game’s best in the business in punter Blake Gilliken, the junior Kinesiology major that carries a 4.0 GPA from Georgia. His arrival in 2016 paid immediate dividends and for anyone that undervalued the job of a punter and has just now joined the rest of us in recognizing Blake Gilliken as a surefire game changer. Senior DeAndre Thompkins returns as our punt returner and much like Gilliken, he’s one of the Big Ten conference's best at his craft. He averaged over 13 yards per return last season and took one to the house as well. Barring injury, Thompkins has the job locked down but the return of John Reid, who held the job in 2016 prior to his knee injury the following spring, provides another viable option if necessary.
Beyond those three old reliables in the punt game, Penn State's special teams unit was faced with a bunch of unknown and a whole lot of questions heading into camp this August. At kick returner, we all know King ‘Quon has moved on which leaves a huge void. Miles Sanders has the experience and Franklin has shown the willingness to use his starting back for double-duty as a returner, but I think Saquon will prove to be an exception. If it’s not Sanders, there are plenty of speed demons on the roster to choose from. KJ ‘The Human Joystick’ Hamler is one for sure and fellow wideout Brandon ‘Jet Sweep' Polk is another. Fellow running backs Journey Brown and Ricky Slade are two more options and all four have been seen fielding kickoffs with those oversized boxing gloves on at practice and they all have speed to burn, so whoever does get the job will be a force to be reckoned with.
One of this off-seasons biggest questions was how to replace the leg of Tyler Davis. Although he came back down to earth last year after a miss-free 2016, Davis was still considered Mr. Reliable and his graduation left another huge hole to fill. Within the first week of camp, our minds were set at ease as a four-day battle ensued with better than favorable results. Carson Landis, Raphael Checca, Vlad Hilling, and the only scholarship kicker on the roster, Jake Pinegar, all had Coach Franklin feeling good about whoever actually won the job. Word is, it's already been decided who gets the first shot but true to form, FrankLion’s staying zipped up for now.
We may have said goodbye to the mighty nektons but with a roster as talented as ours, you can bet your bottom dollar the specialists will continue to remain a strength in 2018. FrankLion made that a point of emphasis upon his arrival and has prioritized it moving forward. And with that, my friends, our Lions Pride Position Previews are all wrapped up for the summer. All that stands between us and App State are a handful of days of anticipation, a Preseason Preview on Monday, and our first Pregame Predictor of the season late next week! I can already smell the tailgates and see the sea of Blue and White as Nittany Nation sets off on another playoff hunt!!