With QBs in spotlight, PSU coaches talk about Sean Clifford, Drew Allar and Beau Pribula

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Central York's Beau Pribula passes the ball during YAIAA Division I championship football action against York High at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Central York would win the game 60-14. Dawn J. Sagert photo

All eyes will be on the quarterback this season at Penn State, and that starts this spring. The incumbent at the position — Sean Clifford — is back for his sixth season, while he has a backup that found success in limited action and two highly rated freshmen that began their college careers in early January.

It should be no surprise that the quarterbacks took center stage when offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich spoke Wednesday night after the team's practice.

Yurcich gave his thoughts on the two most prominent names in the room — Clifford and former five-star recruit Drew Allar — including where each currently stands. For Clifford, being in year two with the coordinator should go a long way in helping him move forward.

"I think the biggest thing from year one to year two, and it's only been through practice five, is just the fluidity of getting through the progressions and being able to anticipate," Yurcich said."It's (run-pass options), he's more well versed in the system. Second year, you can see that, I think he feels that right now. It's not probably one thing, it's everything right now."

Clifford will have to take those steps forward in his final year in college, while Allar will have time to grow in his time at Penn State. He enters the room with arguably the most arm talent and with the highest upside in the group.

However, his lack of experience in the system has been a factor early in the spring, just as it has with Beau Pribula, the former four-star quarterback from Central York who enrolled in January.

"Our system is different than their (high school) systems," Yurcich said. "Just getting the verbiage down, being under center at times, being able to have to direct protections, even run checks at time, all those things are probably the biggest — I wouldn't say obstacles — but areas of growth right now for us with regard to the young quarterbacks. But they're doing an excellent job."

While the highly touted freshman has room to grow in several areas, one of his teammates is already seeing that come to fruition.

Juice Scruggs, the team's expected starting center this season, spent time after practice snapping the ball to Allar under the tutelage of Yurcich. Scruggs said later that he's already seen a difference in Allar and Pribula, even if it's just from an off-field standpoint.

"Crazy arm talent," Scruggs said. "And they're fast learners. They're picking up knowledge quick. Especially Drew. He came in a little timid like any quarterback does, but he's starting to get louder, more vocal."

Running backs making impression: The quarterbacks have received plenty of attention, but the young running backs are already demanding their own. Freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have already shown plenty of what they're capable of through the early portion of spring practice.

Redshirt senior linebacker Jonathan Sutherland said Singleton has made plenty of plays, but there isn't one that stands out above the rest. That being said, he does have a trait that has impressed the veteran defender.

"His burst of speed, his burst out of the whole, it's really explosive. That's one thing I've noticed from him in his game."

Penn State head coach James Franklin praised both freshmen and what they bring to the rim. The stockier Allen has made an impression for how ready he is while Singleton has been showing out on the field, too.

The running backs received that praise from Franklin, but the head coach also gave credit to the unit up front for giving them the opportunity to do it.

"The two freshmen have been impressive really since they've showed up on campus," Franklin said. "Kaytron is really football smart. I think his experience at IMG (Academy) has put him ahead in terms of college level learning, experience and understanding defenses and protections and things like that. And then Nick ... he's been pretty impressive. He's got tremendous burst, powerful and strong in pass protection. We've been impressed so far. To be honest with you, I think our o-line and tight ends are doing a really nice job so you're able to see them a little more right now."

The running back room and offensive line group will need to play at a high level all season with Franklin's emphasis on running the ball.

The team struggled mightily to do so in 2021, but that didn't dissuade the head coach from pushing for more of it. He and Yurcich both said the team needs to run better, but the offensive coordinator made sure to emphasize he didn't put the blame for the struggles on his offensive line coach, Phil Trautwein.

"I think we have a great working relationship," Yurcich said. "Phil is a great guy. Any fault of the run game is a fault of mine because I'm the offensive coordinator. ... I've got much respect for that guy."

Manny Diaz's first spring on staff: Penn State is entering spring ball without former defensive coordinator Brent Pry on staff for the first time since Franklin became the program's head coach in 2014. Pry is now the head coach at Virginia Tech and has been replaced by Manny Diaz, who was previously the head coach at Miami.

The beginning of spring ball is his first chance to work with Penn State's players from a hands-on standpoint and Franklin said there have been some differences with how he runs his defenses.

"Obviously there are some changes," Franklin said. "And with that there's some growing pains and guys not playing as fast as they normally do because they're thinking a little bit more with some of the adjustments that have been made. ... I've been really impressed with (Diaz). I think he's been really good with the staff and with the guys as well."

Diaz has made his adjustments and the players are in position to adapt to their new coordinator now that they can do work on the field in practice. Sutherland said he and the rest of the unit have taken to the changes to this point in spring ball.

"With a new scheme and all, I feel like a lot of guys are starting to pick up on it a lot faster," Sutherland said. "It's really downhill, really aggressive, and guys are liking it."

Quick Hitters

►Scruggs praised offensive guard Saleem Wormley, who was injured during the 2021 season. He said the lineman has looked good as he's come back from his rehab.

►Sutherland emphasized the physicality Tyler Elsdon and Kobe King bring to the table at middle linebacker. Franklin said those two would get all the reps at the position this spring.

►Scruggs also praised projected starting left tackle Olu Fashanu. "He's special and y'all are gonna see it real soon. ... He's got god given talents and some things you just can't teach."