New Penn State special teams coordinator Charles Huff has a big-play mentality. And that means he is expecting big things from the Nittany Lion return teams in 2014.
The fans will enjoy it because the guys on the field will be enjoying it, Huff said. As long as the guys on the field are enjoying it, they're gonna play faster, they're gonna play harder, they'll play with a lot more emotion.
Getting some big-play production -- any big-play production -- out of the return teams will be a nice change from the Bill O'Brien era. In his two years, the Lions did not return a single kick for a score. Their longest kickoff return was 46 yards and their longest punt return 31.
That probably helped to explain why new head coach James Franklin was paying close attention to the return men during the open portion of Penn State's first practice of the preseason Monday.
Here are the players who were working fielding kicks and punts.
22 Akeel Lynch
4 Adrian Amos
1 Bill Belton
28 Zach Zwinak
23 Mark Allen
20 Johnathan Thomas
Notes: The staff was on all of the return men to square up and catch balls on the fly. Lynch looks like a natural in this role. Zwinak, a 233-pounder, does not look quite so natural returning kicks. Geno Lewis, PSU's leading kickoff return man last season (22 for 491 yards) is no longer in that role. Allen and Thomas are true freshmen. Allen looked very comfortable in this role.
9 Jordan Lucas
4 DeAndre Thompkins
39 Jesse Della Valle
15 Grant Haley
24 Nick Scott
82 Gregg Garrity
Notes: Huff had this crew each holding two footballs (one in each hand) while trying to catch a third. The point seemed to be for the players to use their bodies to haul in the punts. We're hearing Lucas, a starting cornerback, is the odds-on favorite to start here. Thompkins, Haley and Scott are all true freshmen. Haley currently holds the title of the fastest player on the team (4.3 and change) while Thompkins is not far behind.