O'Brien: Penn State kicker working to improve

Sophomore Sam Ficken has received a lot of criticism, and some vicious attacks on social media, since missing four field goal attempts in Penn State’s one-point loss Saturday at Virginia.

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said, however, that Ficken came out ready to go at practice and is committed to working on his technique and consistency.

Speaking Tuesday at his weekly teleconference, O’Brien called Ficken “a big part of our team and I’m glad we have him.” He also said the team’s kicking competition is open every week, and that the sophomore from Valparaiso, Ind., wins every week.

Ficken’s fourth miss came from 42 yards out on the final play of Virginia’s 17-16 victory. O’Brien said the entire kicking unit, not just Ficken, have to get better.

“One of the things that is important to realize is that it’s a team sport,” O’Brien said. “You can see where the protection wasn’t great, the snap wasn’t always great, the hold wasn’t always great, so it’s not always the kicker.

“Sam obviously has got to do better in his technique and he’s really working at it. He must have kicked 300 kicks (Monday) in practice. He takes a lot of pride in it. He’s a great kid. He’s a Dean’s List student. And he’ll be back. But it’s 11 guys operating efficiently that helped the whole situation so we’ve got to do a better job as a team on that.”

O’Brien later admitted that 300 kicks was “probably an exaggeration, but he kicked a lot of balls."

O’Brien said Penn State should have done better than netting only three points – on Ficken’s only made field goal of the day – out of four Virginia turnovers.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We all know that and it starts with coaching and we’ve got to do a better job there.”

As for the personal attacks on Ficken, O’Brien called them “absolutely ridiculous.”

“It’s anonymous in some ways and in other ways it’s not,” he said. “But at the end of the day, these guys are playing hard giving great effort for us. To go on whatever, space book or tweeter, or whatever is putting stuff on there is absolutely ridiculous to me and very cowardly. But that’s just my opinion. … I don’t know what type of people do that.”

The coach acknowledged that other areas of special teams need work, that “we’ve got to get a little better punting.” The Nittany Lions rank 83rd in the NCAA statistics in net punting.

He also said the Nittany Lions need to do a better job of communicating on punt returns. As for kickoff returns, his team must do “a better job of blocking … do a better job of the other nine guys knowing what their assignment is and making sure they’re blocking the proper guy,” he said. He is happy with kickoff coverage and that the punt team “has done some nice things.”

In other news Tuesday, O’Brien said:

--Quarterback Paul Jones will see some game action at tight end Saturday against Navy, but also has a package of plays available to him if he wants to use him at quarterback, where he has fallen behind freshman Steven Bench for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

--Injured tailbacks Bill Belton (ankle) and Derek Day (shoulder) are day to day. He said Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak will play if they can’t go and that fullback Michael Zordich might see action at tailback. He said he would like to redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch but added, “If he’s got to play, he’ll be ready to play.”

--Quarterback Matt McGloin, who bruised his right (throwing) elbow on Saturday, did not throw a football during Monday’s practice but the coach is confident McGloin will be ready to play versus Navy.

--The Lions’ poor performance stopping the opponent on third down is a result of “us going up and making the play … I think we’ve got some guys that will understand what happens in those plays and improve the next time it happens and make the play.”

--Joe Juliano