Throughout his long tenure as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, Joe Paterno was notorious for being very strict with the development of his players. However, to aid in the development, Paterno was never too comfortable with using the “trial by fire” method. Very little times was he even remotely content with letting true freshmen see the field early on. He matured them on the practice field and then he sent them out on their own. He was very particular about this with his quarterbacks. To bring this to light, in 2010 Rob Bolden became the first true freshman to start the season at QB for the Lions during the Paterno era, and the first since Shorty Miller in 1910.
Here, in head coach Bill O’Brien‘s second season at PSU, we may be introduced to the third true freshman quarterback to man the offense to begin the season.
It was announced yesterday that in the wake of a not-so-stellar performance during Saturday’s Blue-White Scrimmage in Happy Valley, sophomore QB Steven Bench has decided to transfer from the university. While Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson had identical passing numbers, it was said that the coaching staff was much more comfortable with Ferguson’s command of the offense.
While Bench’s departure would normally mean that Ferguson should be anointed the starter, he still has one more mythical hurdle to overcome.
One person that we did not see sling the ball on Saturday was incoming true freshman–and very highly praised recruit–Christian Hackenberg.
Bench’s release now marks the official beginning of what will be a summer-long QB battle between Ferguson and the heralded freshman. Both quarterbacks will have an equal opportunity to show O’Brien and the rest of the Nittany Lion’s coaching staff who has the best tools to lead the Penn State offense.
And, with all due respect to Tyler Ferguson and the hard work he has put in, starting Hackenberg would probably be in the program’s best interest.
Christian Hackenberg is the prototypical QB for Bill O’Brien and his offensive system. He possesses a strong pocket presence and an innate ability to get the football down the field effectively. His mobility is a tad limited when stretching too far out of the pocket, however the PSU offense doesn’t really ask their signal-callers to be the next Johnny Manziel. When he does arrive on campus this summer, if Hackenberg can show that he can grasp the offense comfortably, he should be given the starting nod and get this proverbial ball rolling.
Now, when you look at the bigger picture, putting Hackenberg on the field this early may have the biggest impact off-the-field.
When the crippling sanctions were first levied against Penn State, it was supposed to basically kill any chances of recruiting success in Happy Valley. At the time, Hackenberg was only a verbal commit to the university, and many people expected him to bolt immediately. But, the prospect of playing under a coach like O’Brien and developing into that “next-level QB” was too much for the young man to ignore.
In today’s world, that’s what a lot of high school prospects are looking at in regards to schools. It’s not so much about where they can develop their best beer-pong skills, rather they want a place that’s going to develop them into future NFL millionaires–and start that development process early.
If potential recruits see Hackenberg get on the field and be given the chance to produce in front of a national audience, the wheels in their own heads are going to start to turn about their own futures.
Whatever the case may be, the battle is now down to two. Both young men right now can stake their own claim to the job. Given Coach O’Brien’s mantra of putting the best possible pieces on the field, the battle should be fun to watch play out.