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Harrisburg's Micah Parsons can do it all for Penn State — including kick returns

NUBYJAS WILBORN
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) tackles Rutgers running back Isaih Pacheco during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

If you didn’t know Micah Parsons or what he was capable of, you’d likely laugh at the thought of the 6-foot-3, 245 pound All-American linebacker being on the depth chart as the kick returner.

But sure enough, a roster released by Penn State appeared to list the Harrisburg native as returner ahead of Journey Brown. Nittany Lions fans started to speculate on the possibilities, though another update would come a few hours later, and Brown was back the primary returner.

But Parsons returning kicks could still be a real possibility at some point. Special teams coach Joe Lorig is serious about the impact Parsons can have with the ball in his hands.

“It wasn’t meant to be funny or to fool anybody,” Lorig said. “Coach Franklin and I have had many conversations about Micah running the ball, getting the ball in his hands. He was effective at that in high school, and we’re certainly not afraid to do that.”

Parsons racked up 29 touchdowns and 1,239 yards as a high school senior. Lorig provided further detail on how the slight switch happened.

“First of all, the depth chart thing was just a perception thing,” Lorig said. “I think it was a little bit of us not all being in the same room when we went through it because I just saw it differently when it went out. I saw the first two guys listed as the two returners that would be on the field, which is accurate. It would be Journey Brown and Micah Parsons.”

Lorig expects teams to kick the ball away from Brown, which will lead to Parsons getting a chance to run the ball back.

“Who’s the returner?” Lorig said. “Well, it depends on which way they kick the ball, and I don’t know which way each team’s going to kick the ball. Certainly, we’re not afraid to put the ball in (Parsons’) hands, but Journey is a very, very effective possibility.”

Kicking game update: Another point of reference on the depth chart reflected Jordan Stout handling kickoffs and punts. Stout will be the kicker for longer field goals, while Jake Pinegar is the field goal specialist for shorter kicks.

The Nittany Lions consider kicks under 49- yards to be Pinegar’s lane. He proved them right by going 11-for-12 on his tries in 2019. Stout banged in some more extended boots, including a 57-yarder against Pitt.

Stout has large shoes to fill in the punting department. Blake Gillikin, who graduated and looking for a job in the NFL, is tied for second on Penn State’s career-average list (43 yards per attempt) while setting a school record with seven punts of 65 yards or longer. 

Lorig is confident that Stout can keep Penn State rolling in the same direction as Gillikin. Penn State could’ve signed another punter, but they realized that the Virginia Tech transfer was the man for the job.

“I don’t think there will be a question if Jordan is good enough to fill in for Blake,” Lorig said. “Blake was fantastic. But I think that Jordan will be just as good. We have to make sure that we manage him being able to do the kickoffs, long field goals, and the punts. It’s going to be about managing the workload for him.”

The team will do its best to make sure Stout is fresh for every kicking situation that he’ll face in 2020 — or whenever football can resume.

“We want to make sure that if he becomes a great punter that there’s no fall-off on kickoffs or the long field goals,” Lorig said. “To borrow a baseball term, it’s similar to finding the right pitch count. We make sure that he can stay healthy. I’m thankful we took him last year.”