Cory Giger's position breakdown of the Penn State football team this fall
Starters: Sr. PK Collin Wagner; R-Fr. P Anthony Fera; Jr. KR Chaz Powell; Jr. KR Stephfon Green; So. PR Justin Brown
Backups: R-Fr. PK Anthony Fera; So. P Russell Nye; Sr. PR Graham Zug
2009 stats: Wagner was 15-of-22 on FGs with a long of 47; he was 11-of-12 inside 30 yards but just 3-of-5 from 30-39 and 1-of-5 beyond 40; he made all 46 PATs; Powell returned 16 kicks for 371 yards (23.2 average) and a long of 54; Green returned four kicks for 102 yards (25.5); Brown returned seven punts for 41 yards (5.9) and a long of 20; Zug returned eight punts for 26 yards (3.2).
Big shoe to fill: The Lions must replace three-year starting P Jeremy Boone, who averaged 43 yards for his career. Ryan Breen was in line to take over the job, but he unexpectedly quit the team in the spring. Fera found himself in Joe Paterno's doghouse for an alcohol-related offense in April, but he must be back in good graces since he's listed first on the preseason depth chart. Paterno expressed concerns that the redshirt freshman has never punted in a game and said he's actually further along as a place-kicker than punter.
Capital gains: Wagner didn't have a great 2009 season but was 4-for-4 in the Capital One Bowl win over LSU. They were all chip-shot distances (26, 21, 20 and 18), but Wagner did a good job given the awful playing surface. "It gave me a sense of confidence going into the offseason," Wagner said. The kicker concentrated on one key thing during the offseason. "I really went into this winter trying to get my leg strength up with the leg exercises that we do, which are leg press, leg curl, squats, but the main one was leg press. That's all hamstrings and glutes, so that really gets you stronger. I've been out kicking by myself, and I've been doing pretty well from 55, so I'm hoping I can extend my range out to low 50s."
Happy returns: Brown gives the Lions an exciting punt return option, which they didn't have last season. As long as he can hang on to the ball -- JoePa cares much more about that than anything -- he could be fun to watch. Powell and Green provide two outstanding options returning kicks.
Best-case scenario: Wagner gains accuracy from longer distances, Fera's big leg helps him top 40 yards per punt and the kickoff and punt protection units don't get burned.
Worst-case scenario: Last year was the worst-case scenario, with special teams collapses leading directly to the only two losses. Things can only improve.
The bottom line: As the headline on Page C1 points out, PSU needs to rethink its entire special teams approach.