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Blue-White Countdown / 18 Days: Hackenberg The Lead, But Depth An Issue At Quarterback

By Ben Jones

Editor’s note: This is part of a daily series counting down to Penn State’s Blue-White Game April 18.

Penn State is in a good place and a bad place with quarterbacks heading into spring practice. On the one hand, Christian Hackenberg returns for a third year behind an allegedly improved offensive line. Other than that though the question remains: Who is the next starting quarterback at Penn State? If by chance Hackenberg returns for a senior season that question won’t need to be answered, but unless Penn State is starting a true freshman next year, the next man up is either transferring in, or already on this roster.

Who’s Gone:

DJ Crook, Michael O’Connor

Despite most Penn State fan’s hopes that O’Connor would stick around to see a post-Hackenberg world, neither his nor Crook’s departure came as much of a shock this offseason. While certainly the hope for everyone involved is to see a career start and end at the same place, with Hackenberg returning and fresh blood on campus this year and next, O’Connor and Crook could read the writing on the wall. That’s not to say either, especially O’Connor, couldn’t have panned out as the quarterback of the future, but it wasn’t going to be an easy route for either of them.

Who’s Here:

Tommy Stevens, Trace McSorley, Christian Hackenberg, and Billy Fessler

From the standpoint of “what name should I know,” Hackenberg is the obvious returner of value here. But with injuries and just the general future of the quarterback position a real relevant talking point, Trace McSorely and Tommy Stevens are notable members of the unit alongside Billy Fessler.

It’s hard to know right now which quarterback will take over the job when Hackenberg leaves, but early praise to Stevens from James Franklin and his confidence in McSorely seems to make it a two man race right now. That is of course assuming that some of the incoming talent down the road like Jake Zembiec doesn’t have a say in that competition. Chances are McSorely is the official backup to Hackenberg in the early going this season thanks to experience alone. Stevens is allegedly a diamond in the rough, but those can take a bit of time to shine.

Biggest Strength:

This is somewhat self explanatory with a First Round draft choice at the position, but everything about Hackenberg makes him the pound-for-pound biggest strength the team has. It doesn’t need much more explaining than that. A future NFL player at the most important position on the team.

Biggest Weakness:

Penn State isn’t really all that deep at quarterback with only three guys behind Hackenberg. That depth is even more questionable when you figure Stevens could very well redshirt, and to be perfectly honest, Fessler is not likely to be the next Matt McGloin. So that really makes it a two man show. While McSorley isn’t Hackenberg, he probably can do things better than people give him credit for. The hope for nearly every fan though is that we’ll never have to find out this year (or next) if McSorely can get the job done.

But at the end of the day, no depth behind a quarterback who was sacked over 40 times in a single season isn’t good news. Even if that depth never actually matters during the season.

Overall:

This position is just a one man show, and that’s how Penn State wants it to stay this year. Hackenberg is as good as they come, it’s just a matter of getting him the time and the weapons to show it. Depth is a problem if he gets hurt, but you could say that about most teams when their starting quarterback gets hurt. Penn State goes as Hackenberg goes. Even if that isn’t always fair, he’s the guy to make up for Penn State’s other issues. Just as long as he has the time to do it.

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