Not long after Joe Lorig accepted the special teams coordinator/defensive assistant position at Penn State in February, he reached out to punter Blake Gillikin.
Penn State’s new addition wanted to gain a better understanding of his new unit, and Gillikin obliged.
“He came straight in and asked me to come meet with him,” Gillikin said. “I sat down with him for 45 minutes or an hour and just talked to him about the landscape of the team, guys he’d be working with – not just specialists, other guys.”
Lorig brings more than two decades of coaching experience to Happy Valley. He spent the last two seasons at Memphis, where he coached the Tigers’ special teams unit and outside linebackers. He departed Memphis for Texas Tech in January, but stayed on staff for just a month before rejoining Franklin in February. Lorig and Franklin coached together at Idaho State in 1999.
Lorig replaced Phil Galiano after Galiano joined the New Orleans Saints as an assistant special teams coach.
Beginning with Gillikin, Penn State’s all-time punting average leader, Lorig will have some talented pieces to ring in his inaugural season at Penn State. Gillikin said Lorig has brought a simplistic approach to special teams.
Penn State added Virginia Tech kicker Jordan Stout in the offseason to further bolster depth at the position. Rafael Checa and Jake Pinegar handled kickoff and place-kicking duties, respectively, last season.
Stout last season finished No. 4 in FBS in touchback percentage (84 percent) after 60 of his 71 kickoff attempts went for touchbacks.
“He’s a very good kickoff guy, as was established at Virginia Tech,” Lorig said. “He’s also a really viable guy on field goals.”
While Lorig has yet to name a starter at the position, he did say Stout’s addition has yielded positive results for the unit.
“Just like (any) competition, everybody gets better,” Lorig said. “What I’ve been proud of is how the other guys have, No. 1, embraced him and brought him into our family. It’s not always like that when you get transfers. You know, sometimes there can be some tension in the room because somebody could potentially lose their job. No one has handled it that way and they have actually risen to the occasion.”
Penn State’s kick return and punt return numbers were near the top of the Big Ten in 2018. The Nittany Lions finished third in the conference in punt return yards average (20.8) and kick return yards average (23.8). Penn State returns KJ Hamler, who led the team in kickoff returns (26.1 yards) and ranked second in punt returns. In addition to Hamler, Lorig will look to Penn State running backs Journey Brown, Ricky Slade and others to join Hamler in the return game.
“KJ is a really dynamic returner in all phases,” Lorig said. “I think he will be a great punt returner, also. John Reid (cornerback) is a guy that’s been back there. Mac Hippenhammer (wide receiver) is a guy that’s been back there. We have a variety of kickoff returners. Micah Parsons (linebacker) has helped us there.”
ELTON HAYES covers Penn State sports for CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.