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Penn State to shuffle special teams personnel

11/10/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State's list of primary concerns entering the season probably read something like this.

  • Offensive line

  • Wide receivers

  • Secondary

While the line and the secondary have struggled at times this fall, the most damaging area for the Lions comes as a surprise. Special teams has cost Penn State dearly in both of its losses, and head coach Joe Paterno plans to make changes for the team's final two games.

"We're going to make a couple personnel changes," Paterno said Tuesday. "We went out [Monday] without pads, so on Mondays it's tough to evaluate people. But today we'll go out there and challenge a couple guys a little bit so that we can find out whether we really have it right people in there."

Ohio State punt return man Ray Small gashed Penn State for 130 yards, including two runbacks of more than 40 yards that set up Buckeyes touchdowns in a 24-7 win on Saturday. Back on Sept. 26, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and returned it to the end zone, the defining play of the Hawkeyes' 21-10 victory at Beaver Stadium.

Like many teams, Penn State doesn't have a special teams coach, as the responsibilities for the units are spread throughout the assistants. The staff structure has drawn some criticism this week.

"We just got to do a little better job, get some better people in there," Paterno said. "It's not the scheme, it's not the coaching."

Penn State ranks 117th nationally in punt coverage (16.5 ypr) and 114th nationally in kickoff returns (18.2 ypr) this season, which is extremely uncharacteristic for a Paterno-coached team.