WOGENRICH: Without Tommy Stevens, where does Penn State go at quarterback?
- Tommy Stevens has added his name to the NCAA transfer data base.
- Stevens was widely expected to be Penn State's starting quarterback in 2019.
- With Stevens likely transferring, Sean Clifford becomes PSU's likely QB starter.
Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens added his name to the NCAA transfer database this week, potentially overhauling the team’s 2019 offense just a week after spring drills ended.
Stevens, a fifth-year senior, still could return to the Lions, though that seems unlikely considering this is the second time he has considered transferring. Should Stevens leave, Penn State would have four scholarship quarterbacks, three with freshman eligibility.
Still, as coach James Franklin said before the Blue-White game, Penn State has built a competitive group at quarterback that should continue developing.
“We’ve created a pretty competitive room that’s very supportive of one another,” Franklin said. "That’s really probably not common nationally. That’s usually the room people struggle with. I probably shouldn’t say that, knock on wood."
Where do the Lions go if Stevens leaves? Here’s a look.
Sean Clifford: A redshirt sophomore, Clifford was the de facto No. 1 quarterback this spring with Stevens limited during practice. He also garnered several weeks of No. 2 reps last season, when Stevens was injured, and played in the Citrus Bowl after Trace McSorley briefly left the game.
Clifford began his career legendarily, completing his first five passes, two for touchdowns, including the longest in school history. At one point, Clifford’s quarterback rating was nearly 600.
Clifford is known for his strong arm and competitive side; he broke a hand during 2018 winter workouts after punching a weight bench. He is 6-2, 218 pounds, having gained more than 30 pounds since arriving at Penn State, and made running a focus of his offseason.
Though his tendencies trend toward pro-style quarterback, Clifford said he has become a more confident runner. And offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said Clifford is a better athlete than some might think.
With Clifford as its starter, Penn State might have to shift out of some of the designed runs the offense catered to McSorley. But Clifford understands that mobility is a requirement in the offense and has addressed that.
"I’m definitely trying to add another dynamic to my game, so I can press defenses in different ways," he said.
Will Levis: The 6-3, 234-pound redshirt freshman is the biggest of Penn State’s quarterbacks. He also has a live arm, which he displayed with a 59-yard touchdown pass in the Blue-White game.
Like Clifford, Levis is a pro-style quarterback, though he has potential as a power runner. Levis, who is from Madison, Conn., was the Hartford Courant’s offensive player of the year as a senior. He threw for nearly 2,800 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior, rushing for six scores as well.
Levis earned praise last year on Penn State’s scout team, and Rahne endorsed the quarterback’s progress following the Blue-White game.
“When you don’t feel like you’re being pushed mentally, whether it’s by your coach or the opponent that your playing, then you’re never going to reach your full potential,” Rahne said of the competition. "So I think it helps everybody."
Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr.: Both true freshmen saw action during the Blue-White game, having participated in spring drills after enrolling early.
Roberson started for the White team, going 3 for 9 for 19 yards passing. He also rushed seven times, taking four sacks. Johnson Jr. was 4-for 4 passing for 36 yards.
Roberson, a four-star prospect from New Jersey, came to Penn State as a dual-threat quarterback. Franklin said that Roberson impressed the staff with how he threw the ball at a summer camp and offered a scholarship soon after.
Johnson Jr. threw for 7,300 yards and 86 touchdowns as a high school quarterback in California and Oregon. His father, Michael, is the receivers coach at Oregon.
“They’re athletic, and they can make some throws,” McSorley said recently of the freshmen. “They’re definitely young. When you first get to this level, you really don’t know what’s going on the first time out there. But it was cool to see them.”