Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens sets out to 'prove my durability' during senior year

(Allentown) Morning Call (TNS)
Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens, center, seen here in a file photo, wants to prove his durability this season.

Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens pointed at the sweat on his jersey, underscoring the intensity of his Wednesday workout even though he can't practice at full speed yet.

He's progressing patiently, despite being impatient about it, and expects to be running soon at full speed.

In the meantime, Stevens wants you to know something: He's durable. Yes, he missed spring drills in 2018 because of a foot injury, was sidelined through parts of the season by a "minor setback" and had postseason surgery to correct the problem with certainty. Yes, his practice time has been limited this spring.

But until last year, the quarterback had been primarily injury-free through his career, didn't miss practices and absorbed most everything on his 6-4, 230-pound body. His arm feels great. The foot feels "really good." He's ready to showcase them.

"I've kind of been bothered by the whole 'injury-prone' stigma," Stevens said after practice in State College. "... I wouldn't say that durability is an issue. I guess [the foot injury] was never really fixed the right way the first time, so it was fixed right this time. I'm glad it was fixed right, and I'm ready to prove my durability, my worth."

A lot to prove: Stevens, who underwent surgery before the Citrus Bowl, has ceded most of the primary practice reps this spring to fellow quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis. Coach James Franklin said that the team's five quarterbacks, including true freshmen Ta'Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr., have made for a dynamic, competitive position group.

But Stevens, a fifth-year senior, is the quarterback with the most to prove. Given other roles in the offense while backing up Trace McSorley, Stevens finally is poised to "play the position I committed here to play."

As a result, he chose to have surgery last winter and watch the Citrus Bowl at home in Indiana rather than wait and lose another set of spring drills to rehab. That's what happened in 2018, when the injury first occurred.

So instead of riding around practice on a scooter, which he did last spring, Stevens is throwing in 7-on-7 sessions, pantomiming reps during live drills and otherwise tossing 100-200 balls a day. He's confident those steps will lead him to be ready for training camp in August.

"Being able to put myself in the position to compete for the [starting] job was, I don't want to say the most important thing, but if I'm going to have the opportunity to play the position, I need to be doing things in the spring," Stevens said. "That was the big piece of it."

There's competition: Still, there's competition, similar to what Stevens gave McSorley in 2016. Then a redshirt freshman, Stevens compiled preseason numbers in completion percentage, touchdown/interception ratio and red-zone efficiency similar to McSorley. Franklin said the edge went to McSorley partly because of his two years of experience backing up Christian Hackenberg.

Clifford, a redshirt sophomore, is making the charge now, though Stevens has four years in the system and a collection of credit from playing the 'Lion' position for three of them.

Stevens' time should come. Nonetheless, he wants to prove it.

"He's as gifted physically as any quarterback I've ever been around," Franklin said. "... There's also different types of quarterbacks: Quarterbacks who can memorize progressions, then guys who spatially just can see and feel the field, almost like a point guard. And Tommy has that."

Following a practice interview, Stevens sprinted away, looking just fine on his feet. He continues to re-introduce himself to further aspects of football, as dictated by his training plan, and reminds himself not to run ahead too quickly.

"It means a lot," Stevens said competing for the starting job, "but at the same time, my past here at Penn State isn't going to really help us win any games. I still have to continue to grow each and every day."