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Training Camp Breakdown: Specialists

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football is underway in week two of training camp, wrapping up week one with the first practice in full pads on Friday afternoon before Media Day on Saturday.  

Ahead of the 2017 season, continue checking in at each position for a closer look at who's back and who's new to the Nittany Lion roster. 

Who's Back:
- Alex Barbir, K (So./Fr.)
- Tyler Davis, K/P (RS Sr./Sr.)
- Blake Gillikin, P (So./So.)
- Daniel Pasquariello, P (Sr./Sr.)
- Kyle Vasey, SN (Sr./Jr.) 

- Joe Calcagno, SN (Fr./Fr., 6-0/256,
Elmhurst, Ill./Fenwick), Carson Landis, K/P (Fr./Fr., 6-2/200, Macungie, Pa./Emmaus), Chris Stoll, SN (Fr./Fr., 6-2/239, Westerville, Ohio/St. Francis DeSales).

- Tyler Yazujian, SN, Zach Ladonis, SN, Chris Gulla, K/P, Joey Julius, K. 

What To Watch For:
Penn State's special teams unit was much improved in 2016, thanks in large part to a collection of clutch performances from a few returning specialists. Leading the unit this year is veteran placekicker Tyler Davis, or the elder statesman of the group according to special teams coordinator Charles Huff.

"It was a role I kind of had to take over," Davis said "With Yaz (Yazujian) and Gulla and Ladonis being gone, I'm kind one of the older guys with the most experience. Me and Danny Pasquariello have kind of taken on the role of being mentors to the younger guys. We have a pretty young specialist group now, so it's just getting them ready for this season and then when we move on for them to be successful." 

Davis set the standard for consistency in 2016, winning the Vlade Award in addition to first team All-Big Ten honors, making 22-of-24 field goal attempts and all 62 extra point attempts. He also stretched his streak of consecutive made field goals to 18 before a blocked attempt against Ohio State.

For Huff, Davis' approach to consistency has shaped his leadership, evident in the progress of Alex Barbir, the Cumming, Georgia native who enters the 2017 season after redshirting his true freshman season in 2016. 

"He's gotten stronger," Huff said. "He can learn or has learned from Tyler to me, which is the most important, how to get in a routine. When you're in high school, you kick. You don't really have a routine of how you kick. But from Tyler, how to prepare on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Okay, I'm getting close to the game. What do I need to do? It's the offseason. It's a bye week. Okay, it's Thursday. It's getting later in the year temperature-wise. I think those are the things that Tyler has been able to help Alex with."


Also among Penn State's top returning specialists is punter Blake Gillikin, who earned the starting job and didn't look back, putting together a standout rookie campaign in 2016. Breaking the freshman single season punting average record with 42.8 yards per punt, he finished third in the final Big Ten rankings in the category.   

With a year under his belt and nearly 15 pounds added to his frame, Huff sees consistency as the next step for Gillikin, fine tuning his placement and location versatility.

"He knows kind of the routine now," Huff said. "He knows his body better. He's gotten bigger, faster, stronger. He knows how long it takes him to warm up. He knows how long it takes him to cool down. He knows kind of the routine of a game. I think he'll be a lot more comfortable." 

During the 2016 season, Pasquariello stepped into the second half of the Maryland game to send two punts an average of 37.5 yards, pinning both inside the 20-yard line. 

With a few departures to the rest of the specialists unit, Penn State will look to evaluate and sort out roles to secure a kickoff specialist in addition to a holder and a snapper. Perhaps not the most talked about storylines in training camp, Penn State could find any number of combinations with backup quarterback Billy Fessler also potentially in the mix for the Nittany Lions at holder. 

Vasey, a 6-2 long snapper from Hawley, Pennsylvania most recently earned the Coaches Special Teams Award at the 2016 Blue-White game, which is presented to a specialist demonstrating loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement through spring practice.

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