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Sean Clifford Clear Favorite For Quarterback Job Following Spring Ball

After an up-and-down 2020 campaign for Penn State football quarterback Sean Clifford, it wasn’t quite clear that he’d remain the starter heading into the fall.

Head coach James Franklin emphasized in mid-March that the Nittany Lions were keeping an open mind behind center and even suggested that Penn State could shop in the transfer portal for another option. But now that spring ball is over, it seems like Clifford is the clear favorite for the starting position.

“I don’t think you’re ever comfortable at the quarterback position until those [backup] guys have gotten games reps,” Franklin said following Friday’s public practice. “Having guys that haven’t played critical game reps at significant moments, you’re never completely comfortable.”

Following Will Levis’ offseason departure to Kentucky, Clifford is the lone gunslinger on Penn State’s roster who’s played meaningful snaps. The only scholarship guys behind him are Ta’Quan Roberson, who ran only a few plays toward the end of the 2020 season, and true freshman Christian Veilleux. While both showed flashes of talent during the spring, they just don’t have the necessary experience to lead a roster…yet.

Clifford’s apparent QB1 status isn’t only because of his experience, however. The junior proved during spring practices that he’s the most game-ready guy at the moment. While Clifford didn’t necessarily “wow” anybody, his short throws were on point, and he completed some tough passes downfield as well. He’s hit the targets he should hit, which was an issue at times last season.

An easy, deep pitch-and-catch to Cam Sullivan-Brown and tight sideline find to Parker Washington stand out as Clifford’s highlights during Friday’s practice. He also looked significantly more comfortable in the pocket and was quicker with both his legs and his decision-making ability.

While Franklin has liked what he’s seen out of Clifford so far this spring, he also recognizes there’s a long way to go until Penn State kicks off in the fall.

“I’ve been pleased with Sean this spring,” the head coach said. “I’ve been pleased with Ta’Quan and Christian as well. But between now and spring, there’s a lot that needs to be worked on, but that’s one of the exciting things at the quarterback position.”

A lot can happen between today and when Penn State opens its season against Wisconsin on September 4. For now, Clifford might be “the guy,” but the Nittany Lions need to have a backup plan in place. Whether it’s due to an injury or poor play, Roberson or Veilleux may need to make their debut earlier than Franklin would like.

Roberson, who took snaps as the second-team quarterback, had some moments during Friday’s practice as well. He had one rushing touchdown and an impressive deep pass to Malick Meiga where he made a man miss and stepped up in the pocket. However, the freshman overthrew a fair share of deep balls to receivers with separation.

There’s still an uncomfortable “gap” between Clifford and whoever the No. 2 gunslinger would be, which Penn State hopes to close over the summer. There’s no substitute for real game experience, but preparation must be done to get the Nittany Lions’ entire quarterback room as close to game-ready as possible.

“The work that [the quarterbacks] do between now and game one are going to be really important,” Franklin said. “We’d like for that gap to be closed between our ones and our twos.”

For now, Penn State will let the dust settle on spring ball. Franklin said he’ll meet with every player during an evaluation period and assess the Nittany Lions’ entire rosteer moving forward. But at least until summer camp begins, it looks like Clifford has the starting job locked down for a third straight season.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a senior business major from "Philadelphia" and is Onward State's social media manager. He writes about a lot of things. If you want to gain absolutely nothing, you can follow him on twitter @rjparsons9. Any "serious" inquiries can be sent to [email protected]

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