Penn State 2009 Position Breakdown: Special Teams

Dan DiBaccoCorrespondent IMay 26, 2009

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - OCTOBER 27: Punter Jeremy Boone #41 of the Penn State Nittany Lions receives a snap from center before a punt   during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium on October 27, 2007 in University Park, Pennsylvania. Ohio State won 37-17. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Just like any other position, it will be imperative that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno finds the right guys to replace the experience that will be lost from last season's special teams unit.  If any coach can find the right guys it's definitely Paterno, who has always stressed the importance of special teams.


What We Know

Anthony Scirrotto and Derrick Williams will be missed in the return game, just as much as they will be within the secondary and receivers, respectively.  Thankfully both of them have an heir apparent in Drew Astorino and Chaz Powell.

Powell will be the primary kick and punt returner just like Williams was the past four years, while Astorino will be the punt returner when defensive coordinator Tom Bradley decides to keep the defense on the field for punt returns.

Senior Jeremy Boone will be the starting punter, and is a Ray-Guy candidate for punter of the year in college football.


The Unknown

Who will replace the kicker of the past four seasons, Kevin Kelly?

Early enrollee, freshman Anthony Fera, sophomore David Soldner, and junior Colin Wagner will all fight for the starting spot during summer practice.  

Who will return kicks alongside Powell?

If A.J. Wallace's hamstring wasn't so nagging, and if he wasn't so important in the secondary, Wallace would be returning kicks.  But since both of those are a reality for Wallace, he won't be returning kicks this season.  I'd be surprised if speedy running back Stephfon Green didn't get a shot at some point this season.  But safety Gerald Hodges seems the most likely.


Report From Spring Practice

Backup punter, sophomore Ryan Breen, was apparently making a push to supplant Boone for starting punter.  But after an up and down Blue and White game, where he went from booming a punt some 50 yards to hitting the ball off the side of his toe, Boone will keep the spot.

Most fans expected Fera to claim the starting kicker role, but as of now he's third on the depth chart.  He didn't look too great in the Blue and White game, missing an extra point, but I expect him to be Colin Wagner's backup when the season starts.


Freshmen to Watch

Anthony Fera, Curtis Drake, Gerald Hodges, and Devon Smith.

Fera has the leg to be the starter for Penn State his freshman year, but it just depends on whether or not he can stay accurate which was his problem throughout spring.  At worst he'll be Wagner's backup for a year.

Drake, Hodges, and Smith could all be returning kicks this season.  Drake is the prototypical return man at six-feet, 180, with a 40 in the 4.4's.  Hodges has the size and speed to take it to the house and run guys over doing it. 

Smith's lack of size is what will make coaches wary of putting him in to return.  At only 5'7 and because his weight is in the 140's, he's small for college football.  That said, he's been clocked at 4.19 before and it won't matter how small he is if he's able to run that well.


Projected Two Deep (Starter-Backup)

K: Colin Wagner/Anthony Fera

P: Jeremy Boone/Ryan Breen

KR: Chaz Powell/Gerald Hodges

PR: Chaz Powell/Drew Astorino


Final Thoughts

Special teams is what makes and breaks seasons for a lot of teams.  The return game is safe with talent and speed all over the team, and with Boone's 43-yard average the past two seasons, punting is in good hands too.  Kicking, the most important part of special teams is what will be the big question mark heading into the season.