Start­ing QB? Franklin swears his mind not yet made up

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Josh Moyer

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.”

PAUL SANCYA/AP FILE

QB Sean Clif­ford has re­ceived the most reps with the first team dur­ing camp.

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