Before Andrew Samson landed in Philadelphia, Penn football's kicking woes might have been its biggest problem.
The junior preseason All-American has brought much-needed stability to the special teams unit, which is poised to improve on a stellar 2008.
Even though Samson and every other special teams starter return in 2009, the Quakers still have these five questions to answer with the season kicking off in two days:
1. How much better can Samson be?
Honestly, probably not much. But in reality he doesn't need to be.
Last season Samson led the Ivies in field goals made, field goal percentage and extra-point percentage. In fact, he's never missed an extra point in 49 attempts at Penn, streaking to a program record. His 16 field goals made last season also set an Ivy League single-season record.
Samson earned third team AP All-America and first team All-Ivy honors for his stellar stats last year, and was named by The Sports Network as a 2009 first team preseason All-American in August.
2. Will the offense rely too much on Samson?
While Samson was a rock last year, in some ways the Quakers wished his numbers weren't quite so impressive.
Of course they were thrilled with his 84.2 percent field goal accuracy, but last year his record 16 made field goals were a result of a poor touchdown ratio in the red zone. The Quakers converted 28 of 34 red zone chances while counting on Samson half the time to score three points instead of seven.
If the offense continues to settle for field goals - regardless of Samson's consistency - the Quakers will struggle to improve on last year's fourth-best Ivy scoring offense (19 points per game). It's not like Samson's 49 straight extra points aren't motivation to punch it into the endzone.
3. How will junior Kyle Olson punt after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament?
Last year Olson was having the best season for a Penn punter since Josh Appell in 2004.
He was averaging 38.5 yards per kick and had earned Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week honors after downing six punts inside the 20-yard line against Columbia (he totalled 20 such punts on the year).
But then on homecoming versus Brown, he suffered a torn ACL while playing quarterback.
Fortunately for the special teams, he recovered quickly from the injury. He's been practicing throughout the preseason, and will be ready for the season opener. But the ACL injury was to his kicking leg, so there's no telling whether he'll be able to return to form while wearing a brace.
"I'm starting to get used to [the brace]. I didn't even punt this whole summer because I had to ease into it," Olson said. "I think I'm getting more and more used to it."
4. Can freshman Scott Lopano step up if Olson struggles?
The one freshman on the 2009 Quakers that coach Al Bagnoli guaranteed would see playing time this season is punter Scott Lopano.
The Southlake, Texas native won the 2006 mythical national championship with Southlake Carroll high school and was the 2008 National Field Goal champion according to Iplayers.com.
If Olson struggles with his leg, then the rookie will be counted on for more than just a few punts a game.
5. Will the Quakers lead the Ivies in kick return yards again?
Junior Bradford Blackmon and senior Jonathan Moore were first and third, respectively, in Ivy League kick return average last season. They helped Penn finish first in the conference in team kickoff return yards per game.
Meanwhile seniors Chris Wynn and Kevin Gray were second and third, respectively, in punt return average last season.
With all of its leaders returning, Penn's potent offense hopes to appreciate even better field position in 2009.
- Staff writer Joe Sanfilippo contributed reporting to this article.Comments powered by Disqus
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