Stevens makes up ground in Penn State QB competition

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
  • Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens are battling for Penn State's starting quarterback job.
  • McSorley was considered the favorite, but Stevens has closed the gap.
  • The two are battling to replace three-year starter Christian Hackenberg.

UNIVERSITY PARK — A day shy of a week into summer training camp, and Penn State hasn’t made any great breakthroughs when it comes to naming a starting quarterback.

Redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens and redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley have been competing for the job since Christian Hackenberg departed for the NFL. And coach James Franklin said Wednesday at Holuba Hall that it depends on the practice which player stands out that day.

Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens is enjoying a strong preseason camp.

“I don’t think we’re closer to making a decision than we were before,” Franklin said. “It’s been a heated battle between those two.”

Franklin said one thing that has impressed him is how Stevens has improved since spring ball when it comes to the mental aspect. McSorley was Hackenberg’s backup and saw some playing time, and those college repetitions have given him a leg up on Stevens. But Franklin said Stevens has made up ground in the race.

But just because McSorley hasn’t put an end to the uncertainty yet doesn’t mean the coach is disappointed in him.

“I don’t think this quarterback race has gone on very long,” Franklin said. “I mean, I think if you look across the country in college football, whenever you have multiple quarterbacks competing for a job, I think this is more than normal.”

Junior wide receiver Chris Godwin said it is a very close competition between Stevens and McSorley, but both have been doing a good job and all the receivers are comfortable with either signal caller.

“I’m not really looking for separation between either one of them,” Godwin said. “I’m great friends with both guys and I know they’re both great competitors. So whenever the decision is made, Coach will make the decision, then we’ll go with that.”

Receivers: As far as if it has been difficult for the receivers to work with two different quarterbacks instead of just focusing on one, Godwin said it hasn’t made a difference because “at the end of the day, you have to run the correct route that you’re supposed to run. You have to make the play when it comes your way.”

While there has been a lot of buzz around the depth of the running back group, the receivers are possibly even stronger. Godwin and redshirt junior DaeSean Hamilton return as the top two receivers from last year while junior Saeed Blacknall has earned some preseason hype for his growth and work ethic in the offseason.

Redshirt freshmen Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles also are generating some excitement. Both are 6 feet 4 while Johnson is 218 pounds and Charles is 219.

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“I’ve seen a lot of growth between both players,” Godwin said. “It’s a year of being here for them, so they’re comfortable with everything we’re doing. Obviously it’s a new offense, but we know they’re comfortable with our group and they’re comfortable being themselves. So they’re good at taking criticism and implementing that to the next day so they can keep growing.”

Franklin said having Johnson and Charles in the fold has increased the team’s options.

“We feel like we have two, if not three deep, at pretty much all three wide receiver positions,” Franklin said. “And then, obviously, we have the ability to go [with] four wides and one back, and we feel good about that as well.”

Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith had some very high praise for the receivers and how that group has made his players better.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Smith said. “We look forward to that challenge each day because we know we’re facing the best receiving corps in the country. If we can figure out ways to defend these guys, then Saturday shouldn’t be as tough because were facing the biggest, the strongest, the fastest, the most athletic. I mean these guys are special guys. … We’re a whole lot better this year, and I like to think we’re one of the best secondaries in the nation as well.”

Note: Franklin said redshirt junior Andrew Nelson will “most likely” stay at right tackle for the season despite playing most of spring practice at left tackle. Franklin said the coaches are starting to move some parts around when it comes to that left tackle spot, but it’s an ongoing process, just as it is to find a fourth cornerback and fourth safety.