Nittany Lions adjust punt return

There’s a big difference between a punt catcher and a punt returner.

There have been frequent instances over the years when Penn State would send a defensive back deep to catch punts, and he not only wasn’t much of a threat for a big return, he often would fair catch even with room to run.

Think of it as the Drew Astorino or Anthony Scirrotto effect.

Nothing against those players, it’s that the coaches preferred the conservative approach of simply securing the ball so the offense could come onto the field.

Those days are gone now.

“We want to score,” special teams coordinator Charles Huff said of punt returns. “Either we’re going to go block the kick, or we’re trying to return it for a touchdown. (A return of) 8 or 9 yards is not our goal. I know a lot of people are satisfied with that, but I think that’s what you’ll get, you’ll get 8 or 9 yards. We want touchdowns, we want blocked kicks.

“So the guy that goes back there, that’s got to be his mindset. In order for that to be his mindset, you have to train him that way, you have to teach him that way. That’s what we’ve done all spring, all summer.”

The two fastest players on the team, freshmen Grant Haley and DeAndre Thompkins, have been in the mix for the punt return job. Jordan Lucas, Gregg Garrity and Jesse Della Valle also are options.

It’s vital, Huff said, for a return man to be able to field every type of kick because ball security is paramount. But the goal is also to make sure the team punting the ball on fourth down has to be aware that it must defend against PSU’s punt return.

“We’re looking for a guy who can go the distance, and we’re also looking for a guy who can field the ball,” Huff said.

Corso criteria

ESPN college football personality Lee Corso made news among the Nittany Nation on Monday when it was revealed he predicted Central Florida would “wax” Penn State.

Corso appeared on an Orlando radio station Friday and said, “I’ll tell you what, UCF should wax ’em good.”

“They’re better athletes, and they can run and they can play the ballgame the way it’s supposed to be played,” Corso went on to add.

Corso didn’t stop with just a prediction. He criticized the fact that the game is being played in Ireland and suggested that UCF should have insisted the Lions play the game in Orlando.

“Show them what kind of chickens they are to play a home-and-home,” he said.

Ficken’s kickin’

Huff had very high praise for place-kicker Sam Ficken, saying he has been “unbelievably consistent” since the new coaching staff arrived.

“It’s been a true shock because you kind of hear all these (things that) he’s had issues,” Huff said.

Ficken’s ups and downs have been well chronicled, and last season he connected on just 15-of-23 field goals. Instead of focusing on the past, Huff immediately started working with Ficken on his mechanics in the spring, and the kicker has impressed everyone since then.

“He looks like he’s on his way to the hall of fame because he’s locked in,” Huff said.

O’Leary on Hack

Count Central Florida coach George O’Leary among those very impressed with PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

“If he continues doing what he did last year, he’s going to be a future great quarterback on the college scene,” O’Leary said Monday.

“He had an outstanding year,” O’Leary said of last season. “He’s a big guy, he’s smart and can throw the ball. He can read a defense, and he knows where to go with the ball. He has the stature back there that he can take a hit and deliver the ball.”