Prepared To Pitch In

Lynn would love a shot at returning punts for the Nittany Lions, but thinks the guys handling the job now are doing fine.

Penn State's punt-return game has come under a lot of scrutiny lately, scrutiny that only intensified after the Nittany Lions fumbled twice against Indiana and had a third fumble negated by an interference penalty.

Graham Zug and Drew Astorino both fumbled in the first half of the victory over the Hoosiers, but the coaching staff stuck with them in the second.

From what teammate D'Anton Lynn has seen in practice and in games, it was the right call.

“Drew and Zug do a great job of catching the ball for the most part,” the sophomore cornerback said. “That's part of the reason they're back there.”

Lynn returned a punt last year in limited action as a true freshman and was in the mix for the job during the 2009 preseason. He didn't get it -- the coaches didn't say why -- but he'd love to try again if the job comes open. Said Lynn, “I returned punts in high school, so returning punts in college is something I'd definitely love to do.”

The Lions' overriding concern on punt returns is risk-avoidance. They are less interested in making a big play than in simply fielding the ball and getting their offense back on the field. That's why sure-handed players like Zug, a junior wide receiver, often win out over big-play threats. Moreover, they have often used a safety deep, such as Astorino or his predecessor, Anthony Scirrotto, as a hedge against a fake.

Lynn said he didn't have any trouble catching the ball when he tried out for the position. “I just think that Joe trusts Zug and Astorino more maybe,” he said, “I know traditionally, the free safety is back there, like Scirrotto was, in punt safe, so that would be Drew [this season]. And Zug is a receiver, so he has sure hands. So I guess [Paterno] trusted them more.”

For now, Lynn is focused on playing cornerback, the position at which he has started the past 11 games. He figures to have his hands full Saturday at Michigan State, win the Spartans ranking first in the Big Ten in pass offense.

“From what I've seen, they run the ball real well, so most of their passing game comes off of play-action,” Lynn said. “We have to be real disciplined so we don't bite on the run and open up big plays.”

A victory in East Lansing would all but assure Penn State an invitation to a January bowl, possibly even a spot in the Bowl Championship Series. A loss, on the other hand, would cloud the team's postseason outlook.

“We can't lose that game,” Lynn said. “If we win, there's still a chance we could go to a BCS game. … If we don't go to a BCS game, it'll still be a pretty good bowl game. But if we lose, all that stuff could go out the window.”


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