Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Joe Finally Gets It- Kinlaw on Kick Offs; Why is Lowery Still Returning Punts?

Penn State has not had a great returner since Bryant Johnson in 2002. That was the last time Penn State had a kick off or punt return for a touchdown. Since then, Penn State's kick return game has been less than stellar. That was up until this season, when Derrick Williams and Justin King were penciled in as the two kick off returners. Both did a good job in the first seven games but Derrick Williams's untimely injury on a return against Michigna will likely be the final time he ever returns a kick. It is simply too risky to put your best playmaker in a position where he can easily get hammered to the ground. Insert Rodney Kinlaw, the redshirt sophomore tailback from South Carolina who is the fastest player on the team not named Williams or King. While most of us would like an explanation as to why it took Paterno so long to use him, almost everyone is glad that he finally is. Kinlaw broke several nice returns against Illinois, including a 77-yarder that almost went for a touchdown. The kid can simply fly. Obviously Illinois isn't the greatest competition but it was very encouring to see Kinlaw tearing it up on kick offs. Since he isn't a starter he can take chances that a starter like Williams can't/shouldn't take since he is so valuable. Kinlaw will be a weapon on special teams for years to come. Not many positives have/will come from Williams's injury but the emergence of Kinlaw has to be among the few.

Why is Calvin Lowery still returning punts? He had some nice returns against Illinois but he has generally struggled most of the season. He is an outstanding safety and it is too bad that his poor special teams play has overshadowed how well he has played on defense. With the emergence of Kinlaw, it is puzzling why Joe continues to play Lowery as the punt returner. My theory is trust. Joe trusts Lowery to bring in the punts and not let them get away. It's a sound strategy but it gives PSU very little opportunity to make a big play out of punt. My lasting memory of Lowery as the punt returner is his decision to fair catch a punt against Northwestern at the 5 yard line. That's just not having your head in the game. Anyone returning punts should be aware of where they are on the field and what they need to execute in the situation. Lowery seems to just know how to wave his arm in the air. The good news? Joe will have no choice but to put someone new back there next season since Lowery will have graduated. Hopefully it will be Kinlaw or King.


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