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Penn State Football Keeping Open Mind At Quarterback Heading Into Spring Ball

It’s time for spring ball, baby!

James Franklin met with the media Monday and talked about the competition within the quarterback room and the possibility of adding another signal-caller through the transfer portal.

Franklin discussed his new offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, and the experience he brings with quarterbacks. Franklin said he’s hoping Yurcich’s arrival can help build on the Nittany Lions’ success in Sean Clifford’s first year as a starter in 2019 when the squad went 11-2.

“Mike’s done a nice job obviously,” Franklin said. “You look at his history, not only on offense…but to the quarterback position. That was a big part of that. Obviously, two years ago, obviously won a lot of games with Sean [Clifford]. There was a lot of buzz and excitement about what he was doing, and we want to build on that.”

Clifford struggled during the 2020 season, especially with turnovers. He coughed the ball up 12 times (nine interceptions, three fumbles) and struggled with accuracy. However, a strong finish to the season that saw him throw five touchdowns and just one interception in the final three games is a reason for optimism.

Franklin called Clifford “extremely driven, extremely motivated, and competitive” and explained that some of his struggles this past season were due to things surrounding him, such as adjusting to a new offense, losing running back Journey Brown, and having turnover at wide receiver. The coach believes experience gained at the surrounding skill positions, on top of No. 14’s own work, could help Clifford heading into 2021.

“[Clifford’s] a guy who prepares at an extremely high level,” Franklin said. “It’s very very important to him, and he’s extremely competitive. I know Coach Yurcich has been very impressed with those things so far, but now, it’s time to translate it, transfer it to the field.”

While it appears Clifford is the favorite for the starting job, Penn State has two young quarterbacks on the roster eager for an opportunity — redshirt freshman Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Christian Veilleux. Franklin expressed the importance of evaluating, coaching, and developing the two quarterbacks so they’re ready to play and so the team is ready to win with them at the helm.

“First of all, we want to see Ta’Quan and Christian. We want to feel like we can put those guys in a game and win with them,” Franklin said. “Based on what they do in practice, and there’s still a lot of time between now and next season for them to do that. That’s gonna be the emphasis in meetings and practices and in scrimmages and in those types of things. You just want to see them taking steps every single day in how they go about their business.”

To this point, Roberson has taken just a handful of in-game snaps, as he served as the No. 3 quarterback the past two seasons behind Clifford and Will Levis. With the latter no longer with the program, Roberson has a chance to make some noise behind Clifford with a good performance during spring ball.

Veilleux, on the other hand, arrived in Happy Valley as an early enrollee this winter. The Canadian is a wildcard as the presumptive No. 3 quarterback entering spring practice and should be able to get some meaningful reps as one of just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

Franklin wasn’t shy when expressing his desire to possibly add another quarterback through the transfer portal. He said, ideally, Penn State would like to have five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, and it could even get away with four. However, with just three, it gets “a little dicey.”

“I also think there’s some opportunities as well for us to still kinda look into the transfer market from a competition standpoint, from a depth standpoint, from a lot of different perspectives,” Franklin said. “But it’s gotta be the right fit and it’s gotta make sense from a lot of different levels.”

He continued, saying Penn State would be searching for someone that has the experience to come in and compete.

“Again, we’ll see how that goes, but we’re open to the topic and we’re open to discussing it,” Franklin said. “But we gotta make sure we’re bringing the right person in here, not only from an academic fit but from a cultural fit, and also from a competitive perspective as well. We’re not just gonna bring somebody in to bring somebody in. We gotta make sure it all makes sense and everything’s been communicated and understood.”

While right now it’s far too soon to predict how many reps each quarterback will get, Franklin said he’d like to have a “pretty good idea” of who’s the first, second, and third-team quarterback by the end of spring once again adding the transfer portal as a possibility.

“We want to get all those guys reps,” Franklin said. “It’s all gonna be based on how practice goes. If somebody puts themselves in a position to earn more reps with whatever group it is, we’ll look at that. But right now, we just want those guys to go out there and have a chance to get better and build their own confidence but also build the confidence of the coaching staff and their teammates.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a junior majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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