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Penn State Football: Ficken Leads Special Teams Unit into 2013

by on July 01, 2013 10:45 AM

Special teams can make or break a game. A made field goal in the first quarter can be the difference between having to go for two late in the fourth or walking off the field with a loss.

Sam Ficken knows that all too well. A 1-for-5 field goal performance against Virginia in a game Penn State lost by a single point is one he's all too ready to forget. But like the rest of his teammates, Ficken got better at his responsibilities as the season wore on and currently sits on a streak of 10 consecutively made field goals. Even so, a strong start to the season could go along way towards both Ficken's confidence and fan's comfort level in seeing games hinge on the foot of the wiry junior.

Ultimately Ficken isn't the only one with special team's duties, while the dramatic may most frequently find its way to the kicker, almost a half dozen other players have an important role on the special team's unit. Here's a look at all of Penn State's special teams members for 2013.

Punt Long-Snapper: Middle Linebacker Glenn Carson will take over the long snapping duties this year for punts, adding a nice wrinkle to a future NFL profile. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds Carson should be plenty big enough to plug up the hole in the middle of the offensive line. If Carson were to be relieved of his duties, center Ty Howle would fill in.

Field Goal, PAT Long-Snapper: Center Ty Howle will stay on the field following any Nittany Lion score to take over long-snapping responsibilities.

Holder: Ryan Keiser will assume his usual role as kick holder this season. Keiser didn't hold kicks during this spring's Blue White game but is expected to do so once training camp gets here. The process may seem like a formality but Ficken attributed his misses during the Blue White game -in part- to not having Keiser in the backfield with him. Getting the ball firmly planted and properly aligned is no small task, so for the most part Keiser has the unenviable role of only making headlines when he makes a mistake despite being a bit of an unsung hero.

Punter: Alex Butterworth will continue to take over punting duties this season. Like Ficken, Butterworth had an up and down season but for the most part was reliable. Over the last five games of the season Butterworth averaged just about 40 yards a punt. If he can increase that average by three or four yards he could really have a strong senior season. With a career long of 58-yards, Butterworth has the leg, he just needs to manage distance control and consistency moving forward.

Kick Returner: While Bill Belton's role on the offense relies heavily on how Bill O'Brien plans on using his stable of running backs, Belton's speed and athleticism will be put to good use in the kick return game. Lining up along with State College native Alex Kenney, Belton could really find a niche taking back kicks. College football's fairly new rule that puts downed kicks at the 25 instead of the 20 could mean Belton will have fewer opportunities if O'Brien opts for his return men to only take advantage of kicks that fall outside of the endzone. Either way, Belton has too much skill to keep off of the field and this could be a great way to get him involved in the game.

Punt Returner: Jesse Della Valle will take another shot at returning punts after making a few fans gasp at his shifty moves last year. Della Valle has taken full advantage of his opportunity to make an impact on the game. While he may only average 7.6 yards per return, Della Valle has shown on more than one occasion the ability to make defenders miss and gain a few extra yards. A good block or two might be all he needs to finally take one back to the house. Freshman Richy Anderson is in the No. 2 spot on punt returns and will undoubtedly get a shot at the duties at least a couple of times before the season is over.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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