Penn State football notebook: Joe Lorig on Micah Parsons returning kicks, Jordan Stout, & more

© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Burns

Here are some highlights of Lorig's conference call ahead of the Nittany Lions' homecoming game against Purdue.

Micah Parsons is "a very viable returner" and Penn State "wants the ball in his hands"

The coaching staff hasn't forgotten about the plan to use Parsons as an off-returner on the kickoff team.

"We just haven't had an opportunity to get him the ball but it's in the plans," Lorig said. "The same plan that we had in the spring and fall camp is still there."

Added Lorig: "I want a kickoff team when they look back there to see KJ [Hamler] on one side and Journey Brown, Noah Cain, Micah Parsons, or whoever it is on the other side. That creates a real dilemma. Those kickoff guys are going to lose some sleep if they don't have a guy like Jordan Stout that can put it out the back off the end zone."

Lorig also mentioned that he had a conversation with James Franklin this week about using Parsons as a primary returner, but whether they do that or not "is still up for discussion."

Jordan Stout has made Penn State's "whole program a lot better"

In just four games with Penn State, Jordan Stout has already hit a program-record 57-yard field goal and become the Nittany Lions' first kicker with multiple 50-yard field goals since Kevin Kelly in 2008.

Stout did miss a 52-yard attempt against Maryland and three of his kickoffs were returned by the Terrapins last Friday, but over his first three games, 24 of Stout's 25 kickoffs went for touchbacks.

"It's undoubtedly made not just an impact with the obvious with what Jordan's done on field goals and kickoffs, but it's elevated everyone in that room," Lorig said. "He's a great kid. The players love him, the coaches love him and again, he's just made our whole program a lot better. I'm really proud of him."

stout
© Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Lorig said that it's important that Penn State's kickoff coverage team doesn't get complacent now that most of Stout's kicks go for touchbacks.

"My biggest concern now is that [opposing returners are] going to come out, I don't know if it's going to be this weekend or Ohio State or Michigan or whoever, somebody's going to," Lorig said. "I want to make sure that we're not complacent so that when they do, we can make them pay the price."

Lorig recalled an instance at Memphis when he told his returner to run the ball out no matter where the ball was kicked against East Carolina, who he said had around a 90 percent touchback rate coming into the game.

"He brought it out from 9 [yards] deep and we scored a touchdown on them because their kickoff team got complacent," Lorig said.

Regardless of what the stats say, Lorig is pleased with the punt coverage unit

Penn State is ranked No. 83 in the nation in net-punting and is tied for No. 60 in yards allowed per punt return, but Lorig stressed that stats don't tell the whole story.

"We've been in a lot of sky punt situations where you're trying not to kick the ball very far, you're trying to pin them inside the 20-yard line or sometimes the 10-yard line," Lorig said.

Lorig said that Penn State has been in more sky punt situations through four games than all of last year, which means that the offense is doing a better job of moving the ball down the field.

"I think Blake [Gillikin] can kick the ball better than he has, and I think he would say that as well, but I'm happy with our coverage," Lorig said. "I don't have the numbers in front of me, but we haven't given up any big returns."

A breakdown by class of each special teams unit

Punt coverage

- Four players that start on offense or defense

- Four seniors, no juniors, six sophomores and one redshirt freshman

Kickoff return

- Three starters

- Two seniors, one junior, six sophomores and two redshirt freshmen

Kickoff coverage

-No starters on offense or defense. "That's pretty impressive and says a lot about our youth," Lorig said.

- Zero seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, two redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen

Punt return

- Three starters

- One senior, two juniors, six sophomores, one redshirt freshman and one true freshman

Specialists

- Punter Blake Gillikin is a senior, Jake Pinegar is a sophomore, Jordan Stout is a redshirt sophomore, and long snapper Chris is a redshirt sophomore.

Lorig on what all of that means: "Sophomores down [make up] a lot of our starters. That is a sign of good health on a football team and obviously a sign that we should be good for years to come."

On Isaac Lutz and Jonathan Sutherland

"Both of those guys are what I would call core special teams guys. They're kind of the heartbeat of the special teams units. Jon Sutherland has been amazing. He almost blocked a punt last week... he's been absolutely fantastic. He's the guy that gets everybody lined up. He comes and meets with me extra during the week to make sure he watches film -- he's telling me what [the opponent] did last year, or two years ago and if there's a possibility of them doing that again. He's just a football junkie and takes a ton of pride in it. He's the kind of guy that you for sure want on all your stuff and then he's a special player on top of the mental side of it. And then Isaac Lutz is the same kind of kid, man. He wants to go all the time. He came in last week and begged me to be on the punt team. Just so you know, no one in the country begs to be on punt team, that's like the one team that nobody usually wants to be on, it's kind of a thankless job. He came in and begged me so we got him on that. Everything that you would want about a core player on your special teams units, both of those guys are. I'm really proud of both of them."

On how the competition between Stout and Pinegar developed

"One of the things that's unique about kickers and specialists in general is that it's really just a numbers game. From day one when Jordan got here at the start of fall camp, we just charted everybody's kicks... it was very obvious from 50 and under [that] Jake had the lead as far as field goals made in different situations, and from 50 and over, there was a very clear distinction that Jordan was the guy. They both handled it very well. I think competition has made them both a lot better. Jake was a returning starter and so the job was kind of his to lose, so I was really proud of how he competed. Jordan also can kick short field goals, it's not like he wasn't capable of that, but there was a distinction number-wise... I think every day they make each other better because they're both very talented."

On his passion for special teams

"A lot of fans won't know this and even sometimes assistants won't know this or whatever, but special teams changes every single game... There's a ton of hidden yardage in games, and it's just a way that you can really impact the entire game. What I really like about it as a defensive coach, is that I get to interact with the whole team... Really, the only other person that gets to do that is the head coach... Everybody talks about special teams. I've been a lot of places. I'm throwing this number out there, and I don't know if it's fact, but I would say 5 percent of people actually do what they say they're going to do... People actually doing it on a day-to-day basis, using their best players, giving it time, putting the emphasis that it really needs, is really small... I think the way we do meetings, the way we interact with the players, the way that I organize practices, there's a whole bunch of things behind the scenes that no one else ever sees that I believe builds the fabric of our football team and helps strengthen Penn State football overall and I take a great deal of pride in that."

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