PSU QB duel may stretch into August

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg returns to Penn State for Thursday's NFL pro day, and the duel to replace him begins Friday.

Trace McSorley, seen here in action in last season's TaxSlayer Bowl, is the favorite to be Penn State's starting quarterback this season.

Coach James Franklin said he wouldn't be surprised if that competition lasts through August.

When the Lions open spring drills Friday, Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens will begin their auditions for the starting quarterback job. Franklin said that both quarterbacks expect to be the starter, and strength coach Dwight Galt has designed their workouts with that competition in mind.

How long it lasts depends on how quickly a starter emerges.

"You always like to try to have the quarterback named as early as possible, so he can go into the summer and take hold of the team," Franklin said Monday at a pre-camp press conference. "But also, we don't want to make the decision just because of that. If it becomes obvious early on, great. If it needs to go to summer camp, we're willing to go to summer camp."

McSorley, a redshirt sophomore, introduced himself to Penn State by throwing two touchdown passes against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The 6-foot, 199-pound quarterback won four state titles at Briar Woods (Va.) High, and Franklin praised his leadership skills.

Stevens, a 6-4 quarterback from Indianapolis who redshirted last season, has a different body type but similar traits, Franklin said. Though his winter combine testing numbers weren't as good as McSorley's, Stevens "plays as fast as Trace on the field," Franklin said.

Further, Franklin said that the offensive line would benefit from both quarterbacks' ability to run.

"They fiercely go at each other," Franklin said of their workout regimens. "They have a lot of respect and like each other but truly are competing in everything."

True freshman Jake Zembiec, who enrolled in January, will be eligible for spring drills as well.

Noteworthy: During the winter conditioning program, running back Saquon Barkley lost five pounds of fat and gained 12 pounds of muscle, Franklin said. The Whitehall High graduate is listed at 5-11, 219 pounds.

Franklin said Barkley's testing numbers (which included a 4.38 40-yard dash) were as good as any running back in college football or "even the NFL."

Franklin said that the next step for Barkley is expanding his game knowledge to play with even more aggressively and decisively.

"With Saquon, all the testing numbers are wonderful," Franklin said. "Now, it's about how we make sure to translate that onto the field with him."

Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, who missed last season because of a knee injury, will be limited during spring drills. However, Franklin expects Wartman-White and returning starter Jason Cabinda to compete for the middle-linebacker position. Cabinda took over the spot after Wartman-White was injured in the season-opener.

Position changes: Defensive ends Curtis Cothran and Kevin Givens shifted to tackle, and running back Nick Scott moved to cornerback. Franklin said Scott approached him during the offseason about the switch.

Pro Day: Penn State will host its annual Pro Day for NFL coaches and scouts Thursday. Here's the list of players scheduled to participate. Tarow Barney, Kyle Carter, Jon Gingrich, Christian Hackenberg, Austin Johnson, Brandon Johnson, Ryan Keiser, Jordan Lucas, Angelo Mangiro, Carl Nassib, Dom Salomone, Trevor Williams, Anthony Zettel.

Keiser last played football in 2014. Gingrich was a member of Penn State's wrestling team.