DRILL BITS: Special Teams Work

Penn State football worked the special teams on Saturday. Get news and notes from the session here, including updates on the punting and place-kicking units.

Saturday saw the second double-session of the preseason for Penn State. The second workout featured the first scrimmage of the preseason. You can read our separate report from the scrimmage.

The first practice of the day had a special teams focus.

The session saw the Lions zero in on coverage and pursuit drills. In terms of punting, Alex Butterworth has been handing most of the snaps in the early preseason.

It will be interesting to see what happens early in the season as Fera is said to be in Joe Paterno's doghouse for off-field issues.

Fera handled the majority of punts in 2010, booting 46 for 1,905 yards (41.4 YPP) with a long of 74. Butterworth, who came on when Fera missed two games due to an appendectomy, hit 12 last season for 457 yards (38.1 YPP) with a long of 50.

Fera is obviously a proven commodity. Butterworth has shown good power though, but needs improvement on his placement.

Fera also handled kickoffs last season and was solid there, booting 49 for 3,306 yards (67.5 YPK) with 19 touchbacks.

With Collin Wagner gone, true freshman Sam Ficken has an excellent chance to earn the starting place-kicking job. He has shown "decent accuracy" and has been able to hit some beyond the 40-yard line. The area he is working on is "getting a quick motion given the speed of the rush."

Observers believe he is up to the task of handling kickoffs should Fera be out for any period of time.

In terms of punt returns, Justin Brown and Devon Smith are the early favorites and have seen most of the reps. "Both give different looks with returns, but they have the speed and evasiveness to help boost field position."

Last season Smith fielded 12 punts for 155 yards (12.9 YPR), while Brown handed 15 punts for 77 yards (5.1 YPR). Given this and his speed, "Smith is the guy they'd like to have handling returns."

As for kick returns, Chaz Powell, Shawney Kersey, Smith and Silas Redd are getting work. Powell was the main returner in 2010 with 21 returns for 503 yards (23.95 YPR). Stephfon Green was the second leading returner last year, but given his doghouse issues is not currently in the hunt. Redd handled seven kicks for 147 yards (21.0 YPR) in 2010, Smith fielded three for 83 yards (27.7 YPR) and Kersey handled two for 37 yards (18.5 YPR).

The coaches seem to like Powell's experience back there, while the others bring varying combinations of speed, power and elusiveness the coaches may rely on. "I am not sure they will have Smith handle both punts and kicks, but if he can stay on his feet, he's very dangerous," an observer said.

Smith has managed to maintain his balance better, but still, "loses his legs" in open space at times.

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