Trace McSorley And Tommy Stevens Talk Competition, New Offense
Penn State’s quarterback competition has been the talk of spring practice, but for the first time this season, the Nittany Lions’ top two contenders for the job offered their two cents following Wednesday evening’s practice.
Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens are cut from a different cloth than the now-departed Christian Hackenberg; that much is obvious, but that doesn’t mean whoever is named QB1 before the season opener against Kent State on Sept. 3 will be any less prepared to run Joe Moorhead’s new attack. For the first time since Coach Franklin arrived in State College, the Nittany Lions have a signal caller truly suited for the offensive scheme.
“To be honest with you, I doubt it will happen [naming the starting quarterback after the Blue-White Game]…We wanna give Tommy every opportunity to fight for the job,” Franklin said. “We’ll go back and evaluate everything after spring ball’s over, but we’ll most likely take that competition into the summer.”
Though they share many of the same traits in terms of being able to scramble away from pressure and even make defenders miss on a designed run, Franklin sees an innate ability for Stevens to create something out of nothing.
“Right now, Tommy’s got a really good feel for finding open receivers and throwing for a high percentage. He’s not always technically doing exactly what he’s supposed to do, but he’s almost like a point guard, he’s just got a feel for finding open receivers and being accurate,” Franklin said. “He may be reading the wrong side of the field, but if you watch the tape and you don’t know what the quarterback’s progression is supposed to be, he’s productive is what he is — and he’s a playmaker. Trace is the same way, he’s just a little bit more consistent with his responsibilities and his execution.”
With an extra year of experience in his back pocket, McSorley certainly checks all the boxes from a leadership standpoint, despite doing a bit differently than his predecessor, Christian Hackenberg.
“He [McSorley] doesn’t say a whole lot. I think he does when he’s around the guys, but around the coaches he’s kind of a ‘yes sir, no sir’ type of guy, and I thought he would break out of that shell, but he hasn’t and he doesn’t,” Franklin said. “He’s a winner. Obviously he’s a playmaker in terms of being able to make plays with his feet, with his mind, and his arm. And the other thing I would say is, you don’t go to four state championships — I don’t care what state it is, I don’t care what level it is — you don’t go to four championship games without having some other things about you, some moxie, some leadership.”
Despite owning similar traits on the field, McSorley and Stevens boast two very different frames. The redshirt sophomore from Ashburn, Va., also known as the second winningest quarterback in Virginia high school history, behind only Russell Wilson, stands a mere 6-foot (much like the Seattle gunslinger), while Stevens checks in at a prototypical 6-foot-4.
Stevens highlighted the physical and mental gains he’s been able to make since arriving on campus a little over a year ago, besides chopping off his illustrious flow. “Well yeah, I cut my hair. I lost, shoot, probably about a pound. I got here my first weigh-in day, I believe I was 185. I got pretty heavy, I got to about 225, it was about the heaviest I had been. I’m about 220 right now, so I’ve lost a little bit of weight with the conditioning…I’m comfortable, I’m playing fast, and things have been going well.”
The redshirt freshman also touched on his all-time favorite signal caller growing up. “Peyton Manning. Being from Indianapolis, Peyton was the man.”
Though it was a transition for Stevens to adjust to a role on the sidelines last fall, he was able to absorb the intricacies of the offense in a different way.
“I was still heavily involved with the signaling last year, so I got to travel, but it was a little tough at first being a redshirt,” Stevens said. “I haven’t really sat since, shoot, ever, to be honest. That was probably the most difficult part — sitting, but I think the best part, and the blessing in disguise, was just learning behind Christian and also Trace.”
“In high school, I didn’t do too much as far as setting the protection, knowing the coverage — usually in high school there’s cover one, two, three, or sometimes four,” Stevens said. “Getting in and learning from Christian and Trace, just learning things like that, has really helped me as far as the mental aspect.”
While Stevens was wetting his feet with the scout team offense, preparing his teammates for the various looks they would see from, coincidentally, a wide array of dual-threat quarterbacks, McSorley was ready to go at a moment’s notice. The Nittany Lions called on him when Hackenberg went down early in the TaxSlayer Bowl and fans got to see a glimpse of what the future could hold.
New offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Moorhead has wasted little time getting his guys up to speed, both in meetings and between the lines.
“It’s exciting, it’s uptempo, it’s fast paced. We’ve had a lot of explosive plays this spring, and it’s just exciting being able to get our ballplayers and get our athletes in space, and let them work one on one, let them make guys miss, let them be an athlete,” McSorley said. “That’s what I’m most excited about, just finally unleashing some of the athletes we have.”
“It think was big for me to just get out there and gain confidence in myself, just being able to see that I can do it at this level. Going from practice to a game is obviously going to be a lot different with the speed and going against a defense like Georgia — a real good, tough SEC defense,” McSorley said.
Competition between the two appears fierce in practice, with both sharing first-team reps through the spring, but at the end of the day, it’s all about making each — and the team — better.
“Both of us — we love competition,” McSorley said. “We’re together all the time, like the coaches said, we lift together, we’re in meetings together, and obviously we’re out here together. We both love competing, we’re both competitive people, so we have a lot of fun with it. It’s been great. I’m trying to be more vocal, you know, get guys going. If we’re ever having a down practice, just trying to get guys up. But other than that, just trying to lead more from example and being vocal.
“Me and Tommy, being close, we definitely know we’re going to come out here and compete for reps, but at the same time, we’re both gonna have fun doing it. We both love playing football, and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re out here doing,” McSorley said. “The whole quarterback room, we’re joking around, always trying to crack smiles and make this fun, that’s what we love doing.”