In a 15-minute press conference this afternoon on the Lasch practice field, Bill O’Brien confirmed what he said earlier today on ESPN’s Mike and Mike In The Morning regarding the team’s quarterback battle.
“It’s very close,” O’Brien said. “I told the team this yesterday, these are two of the best young quarterbacks I’ve ever coached. Tyler [Ferguson]’s 19 years old and Christian [Hackenberg]’s 18, and I’d say by the end of the week, we’ll make a decision on who will start the Syracuse game, but I will say that both guys will play this year.”
The news is a bit of a surprise, as O’Brien said in the past he’d like to name a starter within two weeks of the team’s season opener against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium, which will take place on August 31. But as O’Brien said in his press conference on media day, the two weeks tag is more of a guess than anything.
The bigger news is arguably that O’Brien confirmed that he will play both Ferguson and Hackenberg this season.
“I just think both guys need to be ready to play this year, that’s the clarification,” O’Brien said.
Of course, Penn State fans are no strangers to quarterback duels that play out during the entire season, just look at the battle between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden that took up most of 2010 and 2011.
However, this situation is a little different. While McGloin and Bolden were polar opposites in terms of style — McGloin was a short, accurate signal-caller with an arm that left something to be desired, while Bolden was tall and had a rocket — Ferguson and Hackenberg are almost the same type of quarterback.
“They both have the ability to throw the ball down the field, to make athletic moves on the perimeter of the defense.” O’Brien said. “They’re both athletic, even for their size, both those guys can run, and so we’ve seen a lot of that. They can throw on the run, so they’re more similar than they are different.”
Some fans may point to O’Brien naming McGloin the team’s starting quarterback in June last year as a reason why O’Brien may want to name a starter now. O’Brien doesn’t see it that way.
“I think there was a benefit last year,” O’Brien said. “I really believe there was, because I think you had an older guy who had been in the program a long time, and so I felt like there was a real benefit there because here’s a guy in Matt McGloin who had been here, going into his fifth year and I think it was important in that situation.
“In this situation, we have two young guys who, neither of them have been here very long,” O’Brien continued. “I think it’s important for each guy to continue to earn their stripes and continue to gain the respect of their teammates, so I feel really good about where that’s at.”
O’Brien stressed that he will name a starter, and that the starter will, “play the majority of the snaps,” but he did say that he thinks the backup needs to, “get his feet wet.”
However, even with the major decision looming over his head, one that can mean a lot for Penn State now and down the road, O’Brien told reporters that he’s enjoyed working with both players under center.
“I’ve never had more fun coaching quarterbacks than I’ve had coaching these two guys,” O’Brien said. “They’re bright guys, they work at it, they compete in practice, they’ve got good demeanors, they’ve got good huddle commands. I’ve had a lot of fun coaching both these guys.”
Other non-QB notes, quotes, and observations:
- On the injury front, O’Brien mentioned that tight end Brent Wilkerson had surgery on his injured back and will be out for a while. Linebacker Ben Kline has a shoulder injury, and the team is limiting his contact in practice. Offensive tackle Adam Gress has a knee injury, and O’Brien says the team is trying to take it easy with him, but, “he should be back to practice in a couple days.”
- More injuries: O’Brien mentioned that defensive back Adrian Amos (hamstring/ankle) and wide receiver Allen Robinson (hamstring) have little tweaks, but they’re fine. According to O’Brien, “we’re trying to manage them on a day-to-day basis.”
- At linebacker, where the team’s depth has come into question, O’Brien says he has been impressed by Gary Wooten — who “has gotten better every day” — and the injured Kline along with several run-ons, mentioning Adam Cole as someone who he sees contributing on special teams. O’Brien said he sees “five or six guys” who can actually play in games right now.
- At defensive tackle, O’Brien mentioned several players — Kyle Baublitz, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Derek Dowery, and Brian Gaia — who he expects to rotate.
- In the absence of Gress at right tackle, O’Brien praised the play of former tight end turned offensive tackle Garry Gilliam. “He’s really improved over the last three or four practices, and he’s gonna play a lot of football for us and he’ll help us a lot,” O’Brien said. O’Brien did mention that Gress is the starter, but, “Garry’s shown enough that we would feel comfortable putting him in there.”
- Last night, O’Brien took the team on a tour of Beaver Stadium. According to O’Brien, he did that because, “I felt like it was important for these guys, young guys, older guys that have been here, to show them, again, the history of the program. People ask us all the time, ‘what do you have to play for?’…one of the things we play for is the history of the program.”