Penn State Football: Fielding Punts Key For Huff As Return Units Take Shape
It might seem like a simple skill, perhaps even obvious, but catching the ball is the most important aspect of a punt return.
Not running. Not blocking. Not scoring. Just catching.
So for special team's coordinator Charles Huff, he's looking for players who can make the most out of a return but only after making the most important play of all: Catching the ball.
"We've got a process at how to catch punts. A lot of teams put a guy back there and if he can catch it, great. We teach our guys how to catch it, there's a mechanism about it, a system," Huff said. "In order to be a good punt returner you have to be able and willing to field every ball, and that's more confidence than actual ability."
"If you believe you can get to it and believe your technique is going to protect you, then you'll field a lot of balls and if you field more balls, you get more returns; you get more returns, you get more yards; you get more yards, you put your offense in a better position. That's some of the things that we do, building that confidence and building that trust in catching punts, that's just one of our techniques that we use."
Over the past several years Penn State has lacked a serious return threat aside from standout Derrick Williams who ironically dropped the ball to start off his most iconic punt return of his career against Notre Dame. A 78-yard scamper that sent the first ever Whitehouse crowd into a frenzy in early stages of an eventual victory.
So there is an opening for a new name to step up and become Penn State's next real return threat. At this past Saturday's Blue White game, several different Nittany Lions had the honor of fielding kicks although no returns were made per usual Blue White rules.
"We started this thing and we got some guys back there and we had tryouts and we had some [offensive linemen] back there for the tryouts and some of them got eliminated quickly," Huff said smiling. "But once we taught the technique to those guys who continued to rep the proper technique of catching a punt and did really well, we got some guys back there that are unbelievable at catching punts. It just comes from repetition and repetition and using the techniques we've been coaching them to do."
"Jordan Lucas just happened to be one of the guys who was able to perform the technique, so we started today kind of by seniority. We don't have a true punt returner or kick returner type of deal right now. We'll go back in the summer and look at the spring and when they come back for fall camp they'll have an opportunity to earn that position. But today was Jordan Lucas had the first couple and then we had DeAndre [Thompkins] back there and [Gregg] Garrity did it on the other team and did a pretty good job so it's going to be a wide open race."
The freshman of the bunch, DeAndre Thompkins, might be the best candidate for a real breakout season at the return position. Touted as the fastest player on the team, Thompkins could find a role on special teams while he continues to learn the offense behind a few older and more experienced receivers on the roster. It gets an incredbiliy fast asset on the field, while still giving him time to learn the offense at his own pace.
But no matter how fast Thompkins might be, he can't forget the most important part of the job.
"The person who can field the ball the best will be our punt returner." Huf emphasized yet again.