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O'Brien has eye on specialists

Bill O'Brien liked what his specialists did in the weight room this winter. Now he wants to see results on the field.

Butterworth and the Nittany Lions finished 11th in the Big Ten in net punting last year.

Penn State returns starters Sam Ficken and Alex Butterworth as kicker and punter, respectively, this spring, and is looking for the kind of performances they turned in during the last half of 2012 rather than the shaky starts to their seasons that preceded them.

"I just want those guys to be more consistent," O'Brien said Monday. "I want them to do it confidently. Sam Ficken should have confidence. He made some big kicks for us the end of the year. Like a golfer, right; you have some confidence when you make some shots."

Ficken connected on 14 of his 21 field-goal attempts last season, including each of his last 10 tries. That total put Penn State eighth in the Big Ten in that category.

The Nittany Lions finished 11th in the conference in net punting, with a 34.5-yard average. Butterworth averaged 37.4 yards per punt, which did not put him among the Big Ten's top 10 punters.

The senior from Indianapolis was awarded the "top specialist" in winter workouts by strength coach Craig Fitzgerald for his conditioning work. Butterworth put 19 of his 51 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line last season but wasn't as successful in situations that called for less placement and more power.

"I want him to be more consistent. I want to see the improvement and strength on the field," O'Brien said. "He's a very good plus-50 punter, so he's really good at dropping it inside the 10 (yard-line), dropping it inside the 5-yard line. Now we have to see him when he's backed up -- can he smash us out of there, you know what I'm saying. So those are things I'll be looking for from Alex."

Penn State also has redshirt freshman run-on Renny Parthemore at punter, plus Eli Skinner, a 22-year-old senior from Williamsport who is a thrower on the men's track and field team. He was an all-state punter at Jersey Shore High School and joined the Nittany Lions via walk-on tryouts.

"We thought there was some potential there," O'Brien said.

Run-on Kevin DiSanto, who played at State College Area High School, remains the only other kicker on the roster. Preferred run-on Chris Gulla, who could contribute as a kicker or a punter, arrives this summer.

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