James Franklin still unwilling to commit to Sean Clifford as Penn State's starting QB

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Sean Clifford

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, they (oddsmakers) feel the odds are too long to set.”

The Nittany Lions’ head 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 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 two-quarterback 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 QB by committee.

“I haven’t really been that guy in my nine years, that we’re going to play two guys,” 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 3:30 p.m. 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.”

Banks also lauded tight end Pat Freiermuth. “But, definitely, KJ is a guy to be reckoned with.”

Hamler is expected to once again be Penn State’s top receiving target this season. And more than one analyst believes he’ll be the team’s offensive MVP.

Mustipher impressing: P.J. 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.

“It’s shown already out here,” Mustipher said. “The game has slowed down a lot compared to last year. 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 — only to 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.”

Third-string QB? Clifford is seen as the virtual lock at QB1. And Levis will be the backup. But who’s the third-string signal-caller?

Well, Franklin isn’t sure about that quite yet. But he does think the team will name a third-stringer, and all signs point to that competition coming between the other two QBs on scholarship — true freshmen Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson Jr.

“I think it’ll be a lot like Trace (McSorley), where I think we’ll name a third quarterback. I think,” Franklin said. “We haven’t discussed that yet. I think we’ll name a third quarterback, but we will try to redshirt both of those guys, knowing that we got four games to play with.

“So it was very similar to Trace when Trace was the backup quarterback but we redshirted him. The difference is now you have four games if you need them.”

Safety transfers to Pitt: Former three-star safety John Petrishen, who played on special teams last season, was taken off the official Penn State roster before fall camp. But the redshirt senior went into more detail about his departure via Twitter on Tuesday night, and Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi announced his addition Wednesday morning.

“Been in the works for a couple days here,” Narduzzi told reporters.

Petrishen said he recently had “total reconstructive shoulder surgery,” his third surgery in four years. Petrishen also said he’s eligible to play immediately this season and still has two seasons of eligibility remaining due to medical redshirts.

“I believe a fresh start and a change of scenery will pay huge dividends in all aspects of my life,” Petrishen wrote. “Penn State has provided me countless friendships that will last a lifetime, experience on the football field that I will never forget, and most importantly a degree that will open many doors for me down the road.”

Petrishen played in 17 career games and finishes his Nittany Lions career with eight tackles and one tackle for loss.