UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State opened spring practice, ironically enough, on a day when a storm socked Happy Valley with snow. Reporters were allowed to watch the first half of practice, and here are some observations followed by Bill O’Brien answers to three questions at a news conference that preceded practice.
– Nothing will be decided during spring practice as far as who replaces Matt McGloin at quarterback, but both Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson looked pretty sharp in the drills we were allowed to watch. Both have good zip on the ball, and Ferguson showed nice touch during a one-on-one drill that pitted a wideout or tight end against a defensive back or linebacker. Ferguson hit Jesse James in stride with a deep ball after the tight end got behind outside linebacker Mike Hull.
– Freshman Richy Anderson looked smooth in the wide receiver drills run during the open part of practice. O’Brien said Anderson, the son of former Penn State tailback Richie Anderson, will be used as a slot receiver and situational tailback this season. Anderson will be needed to provide depth with Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch the only scholarship players practicing exclusively at tailback.
– Christian Hackenberg is the true freshman that garners that generates the most speculation given the fact that the five-star recruit will arrive at Penn State when the quarterback job is open. But O’Brien indicated that a number of true freshman could play next season due to depth issues, which are most severe at defensive line, linebacker and running back. Linebackers Zayd Issah and Brandon Bell will be given long looks during preseason practice. O’Brien also said incoming freshmen could provide depth on both lines.
How he is looking forward to seeing how the quarterback competition plays out
“It’s fun when you’re working with the type of guys that you’re working with right now. We have a very smart room; a hungry room. They are young, they listen, they ask great questions. They really want to be coached, so it’s going to be really fun to go out on the field and watch these guys practice. We are going to let it play out, and at the end of the day, we are going to have to obviously name a starter. I’m not into alternating quarterbacks. I’m not saying that we’ll never do that but I’m not really a big believer in that right now. But we’ll let this thing play out and go into training camp and see what happens. But these are young guys that are very talented guys and it will be fun to coach them and watch them progress.”
The competition at running back even though Zach Zwinak opens spring practice as the No. 1 tailback
“Starting with me, we are going to do a better job of putting those guys in spots that take advantage of their skill set a little bit more. I think that comes down to coaching. So it is somewhat of a clean slate. That’s a very competitive position. As long as I’m the head coach football here, that running back position will always be a competitive position. That’s a day‑to‑day, who practices the best is the starter the next day, really. That’s how it evolves because that’s a tough position; that’s a competitive deal. There’s a lot of good players there. So that’s how we’ll do it. But Zach will go in as the starter.”
Replacing the leadership lost from the 2012 team
“I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. I think it’s more that every year’s different. And so there’s definitely a group of guys from last year’s team that played a lot of football for us, John Urschel, Glenn Carson, Adrian Amos, that certainly have leadership ability and were part of that leadership team last year. So now it’s time for some of those younger guys to have a good spring practice and work hard and help us in that role, too. So we’ll see how that develops. But this year is a different year, and I think we’ve got some good guys coming back that played a lot for us last year that will be good for us.”
– Scott Brown