STATE COLLEGE — Quarterback competition is going to be fierce at Penn State leading up to September.
It just might not start as early as anybody around the Nittany Lions would prefer.
Senior Tommy Stevens may not be ready to be a full participant in the 15 practices leading up to the April 13 Blue-White Game, head coach James Franklin said as spring practices opened Wednesday afternoon.
“He will participate, but I don’t know if it’s going to be full-go,” Franklin said.
Stevens missed the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 after undergoing surgery to repair a “fairly significant” injury he tried to play through during the regular season. Stevens threw for 110 yards and rushed for 118 behind starter Trace McSorley, accounting for three touchdowns. He’s expected to compete with sophomore Sean Clifford for the starting job, but Franklin all but dubbed Stevens the favorite to win the job in February.
Figuring out how to proceed with Stevens’ recovery from the surgery, though, has proven to be a bit trickier.
“He had the surgery off campus, so we are communicating with his doctor, as well, and trying to get everybody on the same page,” Franklin said. “At this point, he’ll be limited from the beginning of spring, and depending how spring goes and how he progresses, it could be full go by the end of spring, but I’m not sure of that yet.”
Franklin conceded Penn State will be an inexperienced team this fall, even if he insisted the talent on the roster continues to improve. While the Nittany Lions have to replace key offensive linemen Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates, it’s assumed the offense will continue to progress if it receives quality play from whoever replaces McSorley.
“I think Tommy understands, ‘Hey, I have got to step into this role right now. I have a responsibility not only to run the offense and to lead the offense and understand that, you know, Trace had instant credibility with our team from what he had done the previous years,’” Franklin said. “Tommy understands it’s his turn now to step up. Sean feels that way, and I also don’t want to exclude [Will] Levis, because Levis is a guy we think is extremely talented, and he’s got to step up, too.”
Another assumed position takeover on offense might not be such a given.
Franklin raved about sophomore running back Journey Brown, a speedster who many felt would be the backup to Ricky Slade, saying that race might come down to Slade’s hopes to stay on course with Brown’s steady improvement.
“One of the things that we spent a lot of time talking to our players about is our players put so much pressure on themselves about their timeline,” Franklin said. “They all think they are going to come in and play as true freshmen, and it’s going to go wonderful, and they are going to be in the NFL the first year they are able to. ... Patience is such an important part of this, and as long as you’re getting better and as long as you’ve got a great attitude and waking up every single morning and attacking the day with everything you’ve got academically, socially, academically, at some point it’s going to happen for you. I think that’s Journey. Journey’s always been really talented, but now a lot of these other things are falling into place to allow him to play with the confident and the speed.”
Receiver Mac Hippenhammer, a sophomore who is expected to compete for time as a backup receiver, won’t participate in spring practice. He’s an outfielder on the Penn State baseball team and will be focusing his efforts there. ... Center Juice Scruggs was involved in a car accident that will keep him out of spring practices, Franklin said. Scruggs and Hippenhammer were the only two players he said have been ruled out for the spring. ... Franklin confirmed two position changes. Sophomore C.J. Thorpe, who converted to the defensive line last season to supplement a lack of depth there, will move back to the offensive side. Also, walk-on quarterback Grayson Kline has been moved to tight end.