Starting QB? Franklin swears his mind not yet made up
Penn State coach James Franklin acknowledged Tuesday night that Sean Clifford has received the most reps with the first team this camp, but he’s still not ready to name a starting quarterback.
“We haven’t even talked about it — honestly, swear to God,” Franklin said after practice, raising his right hand. “We haven’t even discussed it at this point. We’re obviously getting close to that, but we haven’t had a discussion yet on quarterback — or really on any position when it comes to depth charts and rotations and stuff like that.“
Regardless, Clifford is widely seen as the heavy favorite over redshirt freshman Will Levis. Pro Football Focus recently named Clifford the No. 31 overall quarterback in the nation, and all signs — since the April transfer of the more-experienced Tommy Stevens — have pointed to Clifford as QB1.
Even the online sportsbooks haven’t bought into any kind of true competition.
BetOnline released odds for 17 quarterback competitions in the Power Five but did not list Penn State. When asked earlier this month if it could create PSU odds for the Centre Daily Times, something it has told reporters it would do, a spokesperson replied, “Despite Franklin saying it’s an open competition, [oddsmakers] odds are too long to set.”
The Nittany Lions coach said Tuesday night that naming a starter is obviously on his to-do list. But there’s still no solid timetable.
”It’s not like we have a date marked on the calendar,“Franklin said. ”We got a lot of things that we discuss and we got to get covered. It’s not like this is any feel the
different than any years past.
“I do have a note written down to discuss first-game rotation and depth chart, so it’s coming obviously pretty soon — but it’s not like we have any agenda. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
When asked if he would consider utilizing a twoquarterback system in the opener, Franklin didn’t seem receptive to the idea. He would prefer as many players as possible see the field, but he’s never before tried a system that essentially uses quarterback by committee.
“I haven’t really been that guy in my nine years,” Franklin said before mentioning one QB unprompted, “especially when you got a guy like Sean that doesn’t have a whole lot of experience and he needs as many reps as he can to gain that experience. That’s just my belief.”
Penn State’s season opener kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 against Idaho.
Who’s giving the defense problems? Safeties coach Tim Banks didn’t hesitate when asked what first-team offensive player has given the first-team defense the most problems this camp: wideout KJ Hamler.
“Well, you know, KJ Hamler’s obviously one of the best players in this conference, if not the nation,” Banks said. “He’s super quick, he’s super competitive, he’s tough.”
Hamler is expected to again be Penn State’s top receiving target this season. And more than one analyst believes he’ll be the team’s offensive MVP.
DT PJ Mustipher impressing: PJ Mustipher, a sophomore, is expected to be a big part of the defensive line rotation — as the top backup defensive tackle and one who could overtake starter Antonio Shelton at some point this season.
Mustipher has already seen his work this offseason pay dividends.
“The game has slowed down a lot compared to last year,” he said. “Last year, I was just running wild coming out of high school.”
Franklin also praised Mustipher, saying he’d often walk out on the patio connected to his office at 6 a.m. this summer and see Mustipher hitting the sled or doing bag drills.
“His improvement from last season has been dramatic,” Franklin said. “It doesn’t surprise me because he’s a worker.”
Redshirt plans: The plan this season is pretty similar to last year, when the NCAA allowed freshmen to play four games and still redshirt.
Penn State freshmen who are on the bubble between playing immediately and redshirting will compete early in the season. If they make an impact and do well, they’ll continue to play and they won’t be redshirted. If they play a game or two and could use more seasoning, Franklin said he’ll keep them on the bench until later in the year in case of injuries.
But there is one difference in the plan this season.
“I will say the one thing where we’re probably a little different is there’s a couple guys we would like to redshirt,” Franklin said. “So what we’re probably going to do is not play them early on and save all four games for the end of the season for injuries and try to use those four games at the end of the year — but try to save them so we don’t burn them unnecessarily if we don’t have to. And there are a couple of guys that fall into that category.”
QB Sean Clifford has received the most reps with the first team during camp.