Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Tommy Stevens is leaving: 5 things to consider

Tommy Stevens is leaving: 5 things to consider

Sean Clifford got some playing time in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky in January, but he’s the relatively inexperienced leader of Penn State’s offense now that Tommy Stevens has decided to transfer. JOHN RAOUX / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

On Thursday morning, I published a post about Tommy Stevens’ entrance into the transfer portal. Today, it’s a post about life at Penn State after Tommy Stevens.

Late Thursday afternoon, word broke courtesy of the Centre Daily Times that Stevens would not return to the Nittany Lions in the fall. So, the next step for Stevens is to determine where his next opportunity comes and how much he’ll impact that particular program. That comes later.

Now, though, we take another five-step look at what Stevens’ departure means for the Nittany Lions.

1.) There’s no longer a real quarterback battle coming in August.

Sure, OK…nobody has a starting spot locked up. Everyone has to go out and earn it. Nobody should assume anything. I know what the coaches are going to say, and they should say that. At the end of the day, technically, it’s all true in a way.

But Sean Clifford is going to be Penn State’s quarterback this fall, barring injury.

Clifford took the majority of first-team snaps in the spring, played most of the Blue-White Game under center, completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, and actually led the Blue squad in rushing yards (31). Which is as much proof as we have that…

2.) Clifford might be enough of a fit for the Penn State offense.

This has been a bit of a concern with Clifford, whose perceived strengths more closely resemble Christian Hackenberg’s strengths than Trace McSorley’s.

But leading up to Blue-White, head coach James Franklin praised Clifford’s competitiveness, saying that it helped him hit the weight room hard, “change his body” and become a more capable runner.

“Because of his competitiveness and how prideful he is, he went from a guy who most people would list as a true pro-style quarterback to one who I think is a guy who is a legitimate dual threat guy who can hurt you in many ways,” Franklin said.

Last season, McSorley rushed for 798 yards. It’s sort of unrealistic to think Clifford matches that. While I don’t think there were as many designed runs for McSorley — who seemed to improvise well when plays broke down — as one might think the last few years, there were certainly more than you’d work in there for a redshirt sophomore who doesn’t have his speed or total grasp of the offense. But the question is, when the play breaks down, can Clifford make enough plays on the run? And maybe Franklin’s words and his Blue-White performance provide some hope in that regard.

If they don’t…

3.) Penn State’s quarterback room still looks pretty good.

Ideally, Stevens would have put a chokehold on the starting spot this spring.

He would have been a senior. He’s a tremendous physical talent. He has a strong arm and an unquestioned ability to move the ball on the ground. He’d have been a great bridge from McSorley to what really is a talented, but young and inexperienced, group of quarterbacks that would have been behind him.

Good as Clifford looked last year, he has thrown seven career passes. That’s…not a lot.

But, he’s uber talented, and some think he has a bright career after he leaves PSU.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Teams throw inexperienced quarterbacks into the starting lineup all the time and are fine. Ohio State will do that this season, and they’ll open the season ranked in the top 10. Clemson did it last year and won the national championship. Quarterbacks come in as freshmen more prepared than they’ve ever been, and this is Clifford’s third season in the system. He’ll develop.

But Penn State has some pretty good prospects behind him, too. Will Levis goes from fourth-stringer to backup this season, and he’s kind of a Stevens type, a massive guy with a big arm who can make every throw. True freshman Ta’Quan Roberson is a McSorley type who has a dual-threat skillset but keeps his eyes downfield in the passing game and can make things happen when things break down. Another freshman, Michael Johnson Jr., had a good spring game, even if he looked a little raw.

A true competition in August, something Franklin said would be necessary when Stevens was still in the fold, probably isn’t going to happen. But it would be a benefit for Penn State — and Clifford, frankly — if a legitimate challenger could emerge from that group.

If one can’t…

4.) Will Penn State be going through this whole process again soon?

Young quarterbacks work their entire high school careers to be big-time college players, spend countless nights dreaming of the NFL and national championships, and they know the best way to get there is to play major college football in the biggest conferences.

The drawback to that is, only 64 such starting jobs exist (65, counting Notre Dame). The competition for those roles is fierce, and Tommy Stevens found that out once he got to the point where McSorley was gone and he figured he should inherit the one of those 65 jobs he put time into earning.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Clifford is really good. Let’s say he stays in school for three more years — although, if he’s that good, he’ll likely be able to leave school with his degree after his junior season in 2020. What does that do to the construct of the Penn State quarterback room moving forward?

If Clifford is Penn State’s quarterback in 2021 — and that’s a long way off, but again, this is just for the sake of debate — Penn State will essentially have had three starting quarterbacks in nine years. This is not a job that is opening up a lot, and essentially, it puts a really good prospect like Levis in Stevens’ position. That could have an effect on recruiting, and it certainly will make the transfer portal popular with Nittany Lions quarterbacks who play behind the starter.

That’s going on everywhere, of course. But it’s something Penn State fans are going to have to accept as part of doing business. Which is enough to make you wonder…

5.) Should the transfer portal and the state of the quarterback position in college football ultimately change the way Penn State recruits QBs?

This is an interesting thought I’ve been considering long before Stevens’ decision.

Franklin and his staff have said they’d like to bring in at least one quarterback in every recruiting class. They have Micah Bowens, a three-star prospect out of Las Vegas, verbally committed to the 2020 class. In the 2019 class, they added Johnson Jr. and Roberson. In 2018, they got Levis and, at one point, had Justin Fields (formerly of Georgia, currently of Ohio State) committed at one point. In 2017, Clifford joined. In 2016, the added the since-retired Jake Zembiec. In 2015, Stevens came in. In 2014, they added McSorley and four-star recruit Michael O’Connor, who left the program shortly afterward.

That’s every one of Franklin’s recruiting classes including at least one quarterback.

That puts you at four, maybe five, scholarship quarterbacks on every roster. Certainly, Penn State isn’t going to look to go less in the near term, until the real effects of the transfer portal are sorted out. But I come from a baseball background, and baseball front offices are always looking for ways to maximize roster use and sort out inefficiencies in past thinking. In five-to-10 years, are we going to be looking at rosters with that many scholarship quarterbacks, considering how many of them conceivably could look to transfer each season, and to increase the chances quarterbacks have to legitimately compete for a starting job?

Or, are we going to be looking at rosters with a few more scholarship quarterbacks on it, to compensate for potential losses?

Fact is, we don’t know where this is going, because the transfer portal is so new. Essentially, players are free agents now, considering the amount of waivers granted to players wishing to play immediately this past offseason. It’s an intriguing discussion, one that is certainly going to evolve as the years pass and the transfer portal settles in.

Kentucky defensive end T.J. Carter (90) sacks Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) during the second half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

REPORT: Stevens leaving PSU

It looks like Penn State won’t have much of a quarterback battle after all in August.

The Centre Daily Times is reporting that senior quarterback Tommy Stevens has decided he will leave Penn State and play his final collegiate season elsewhere, according to his father. Stevens entered the transfer portal on Wednesday.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Obviously, we’ll have more on this as the story develops.

Tommy Stevens in the portal: 5 things to consider

Tommy Stevens in the portal: 5 things to consider

Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens, now in the NCAA’s transfer portal, is looking for an opportunity. Where might he find one? ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Tommy Stevens’ name is in the transfer portal. Surely, you’ve heard by now. It’s kind of a big deal, and not just in Happy Valley.

A starting-caliber quarterback for a major-college football program has hit the open market, after all.

Reading between the lines on Twitter, teammates are concerned this might actually be it for Stevens in a Penn State uniform, too. Mostly because it has been part of the conversation around him for a few years now.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

But now that he’s in the portal, there are some things to consider here: Including the possibility that Tommy Stevens will be Penn State’s starting quarterback this fall after all this shakes out anyway.

read more…

PSU Police: Indecent assaults reported at Lasch Building

The day before tens of thousands are expected in Happy Valley to watch a spring scrimmage, a disturbing report from campus police indicates indecent assaults have been alleged over the past 15 months at Penn State’s football building.

According to a “timely warning” notice sent to students, faculty and staff at the University Park campus, Penn State police received a third-party report from someone alleging “a known student allegedly inappropriately touched other students” in the Lasch Football Building on several occasions between Jan. 6, 2018 and Thursday. Although the “known student” wasn’t named, and although the football program wasn’t implicated at all in the report, the Penn State football program’s weight room, meeting rooms and coaches offices are located in the Lasch Building.

Penn State will hold its 2019 Blue-White Game at 3 p.m. Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

There’s nothing much more to say about this than what the notice indicates. We’re dealing with allegations, so far. Allegations from a third party. Police are investigating. The notice seems to indicate that they have a suspect. We’ll wait and see where it goes from here, if it goes anywhere.

A look inside Penn State’s Pro Day

You’ve probably committed the numbers from Penn State’s annual Pro Day on Tuesday to memory. If you’re not, here’s a good place to catch up.

I created a video documenting some of the drills and interviews and insights from players during the event. It’s the first one I’ve put together, and I hope you enjoy it. Not going to take this one to Sundance quite yet, but every journey starts with one, small step…

Welcome to spring practice

Welcome to spring practice

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Spring practice officially starts today at Penn State, and head coach James Franklin’s press conference is being held at around noon.

Stay tuned for updates from Franklin, and new special teams coach Joe Lorig, who will be introduced to the press at a conference following his new boss.

UPDATE: “We’re obviously young.”

But he adds some of the stats don’t exactly tell the story. Pointed out Micah Parsons is an example. Led teams in tackles, but didn’t start.

UPDATE: Mac Hippenhammer is focusing on baseball full time this spring. “He’s Bo Jackson for us.”

Franklin adds that C.J. Thorpe is back on the offensive side. “We really believe he has an unbelievable ceiling to be an elite offensive lineman.”

Team also moved walk-on Grayson Kline to tight end.

Juice Scruggs got into a car accident and will miss spring ball.

UPDATE: Confidence and chemistry are two things Franklin says the staff wants to develop with the team this spring. Also, ball protection on offense and play disruption on defense.

Wants to work on developing the two-deep, obviously. Especially at DT, where they want 5 who can play. Safety and receiver two other positions where coaches need to “speed up the development process.

UPDATE: “I think we’re all growing. I think you better have a growth mindset the rest of your life.”

Franklin said he is happy with Micah Parsons’ growth away from the field. He has “been phenomenal.” Doing well in classroom and has been very coachable. Strong relationship with coaches.

Big reason he didn’t start last year was to take pressure off of him.

UPDATE: Taylor, Sutherland, Neff and Romano at free safety. At strong, Wade, Petrishen, Rudolph and Hartlaub.

That’s where Penn State goes into camp at the safety position.

“We’re really excited about what Wade has done this offseason,” Franklin said, adding that John Petrishen is healthy for maybe the first time in a while.

UPDATE: Early to say where leadership is going to come from on this team.

Franklin said team will go back to having more captains. Had just three last year, but two on offense, defense and special teams a few years ago. They’ll go back to that this year if they can.

Will Fries, Michal Menet, Steven Gonzalez are “going to have to bring a lot of leadership value to our team.” Same with combination of Freiermuth and Bowers at tight end, plus the quarterbacks.

Also, K.J. Hamler has as much energy and can impact anyone positively.

UPDATE: Going to be really good competition at a lot of positions, including quarterback. But fact is, Penn State is going to be inexperienced. Talented, but inexperienced.

UPDATE: Franklin “not sure” if Tommy Stevens will be full-go for the spring.

UPDATE: Franklin “excited” for assistants who move on and advance their careers. His responsibility is not just to develop players, he says. Selfishly would love for them to stay at Penn State “and watch their goatees get grayer with every press conference, like mine…but that’s not the reality of our industry anymore.”

Wants the situation to be one where assistants don’t feel like they have to leave, but he says that’s the reality of the job right now.

UPDATE:
Transfer portal created an opportunity for players to look around, make sure they were in the best situation for them and their families, Franklin said.

Had a lot of conversation with Lamont Wade and his parents. Able to get “to a good place” based on where he was at academically and in his football careers. Wade decided to return.

Franklin notes that most players who left Penn State had their degrees, which to him was more a graduate transfer thing than a transfer portal development.

UPDATE: Ricky Slade has done some nice things at running back, but staff is also excited about Journey Brown.

Players put so much pressure on themselves about “their timeline.” They think about playing as true freshmen, entering NFL in three years. “Guys put way too much pressure on themselves. Everybody’s path is different.” Franklin said patience is an important part of the development process, and that patience has been a big part of Journey Brown’s career. He’s playing with confidence and speed. “The guy’s got ability. But all those other things are starting to fall into place for him.”

Noah Cain and CJ Holmes also in the running. Franklin mentioned Lake-Lehman walk-on Nick Eury as well, and prospect Devyn Ford is coming in for the summer.

UPDATE: Special teams coordinator Joe Lorig is now at the podium.

Says leaving Texas Tech “wasn’t difficult at all” despite being there only five weeks. Relationship with Franklin and the stature of Penn State program combined to seal the deal. He adds that if it were not for Franklin, he probably wouldn’t have made the move.

UPDATE: Tries not to come in to a new place with preconceived notions. But Lorig was impressed with kicker Jake Pinegar’s approach. “He has a good plan of how he can get better.”

UPDATE:
If you see some CTG signs around the special teamers, that’s because it’s Lorig’s mantra. “Change The Game.”

Lorig models the special teams units like any other position group. Holds individualized meetings, and he says that’s rare. Punt team will be with punt team, kick team with kick team, etc. “Special teams can’t be about me. It’s not my deal. It’s our deal.”

UPDATE: Lorig watched film on offense, defense and special teams in 2018 to get a feel for the team. Spent all last week doing it. Noticed too many balls being kicked out of bounds. Almost all missed field goals were from the same spot — the right hash. “But I also saw a lot of really talented guys who play hard. If you have that, you can build the type of culture I’m talking about really quick.”

Fastest way to improve a football team, he said, is on special teams.

UPDATE:
Lorig will recruit parts of Delaware, Maryland, Erie County and the Space Coast of Florida. Will coach on defense a bit, as well, though that has not been established. Right now, he’s assisting “as needed.” But very experienced around the defense. He has coached outside linebackers in the past in 3-4 schemes, but it’s clearly a little different with Penn State running a 4-3.

UPDATE: Not sure yet who is dynamic enough, makes good-enough decisions, to get the first crack at returning punts and kicks. Hamler is in the mix, of course. But a lot of players are going to get a chance. No hesitation to use the same player to return both punts and kicks.

Oruwariye wraps up Combine

Oruwariye wraps up Combine

Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye finished up strong at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Monday, as he did by picking off this pass against Appalachian State to seal an overtime victory in the 2018 season opener. CHRIS KNIGHT / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Things are winding down at the NFL Combine this afternoon, and some of the numbers are in on Penn State’s last participant, cornerback Amani Oruwariye.

Here’s what he has done:

 

Amani Oruwariye

Bench press

17 reps (t5)

40-yard dash

4.47 seconds (t12)

Vertical jump

36.5 inches (t17)

Broad jump

120 inches (t22)

3-cone drill

DNP

20-yard shuttle

DNP

60-yard shuttle

DNP

All in all, solid so far for Oruwariye. There are some drills that are more important for some prospects than they are others.

For Oruwariye, I’d guess a lot of scouts and general managers were looking at the bench press and the 40-yard dash. He’s a bigger, stronger guy. So, the bench will tell you where he compares there. But, of course, you also have to show when you’re big and strong that you can run a solid time. Which, he did.

It’s going to be a really interesting debate about which Penn State player will be the first selected next month. Oruwariye might be the favorite, but Connor McGovern is going to be in the mix there, and I wouldn’t fall asleep on Miles Sanders, either.

Big Ten commissioner set to leave post

Big Ten commissioner set to leave post

Some really big news out of the Big Ten this morning: Commissioner Jim Delany will retire after his current term runs out on June 30, 2020.

The Big Ten’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors has started a search process to ultimately replace Delany, with Northwestern president Morton Shapiro leading the charge.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to serve and lead these preeminent institutions, presidents, administrators, coaches and students,” Delany said in a statement released by the conference. “It is incredibly fulfilling to support the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who have been afforded an opportunity to obtain best-in-class educations as a result of the invaluable, one-of-a-kind lessons learned through the unique combination of athletic and classroom competition. I would like to recognize and thank each of my colleagues for being such invaluable members of, and contributors to, the Big Ten Conference team, while acknowledging that there is still plenty of work to be done. I look forward to continuing that work through the balance of my term.”

Delany has been the Big Ten’s commissioner since 1989 and has lead the conference into a new era of college sports with some bold moves and innovative decisions. He oversaw the expansion to 11 programs with the addition of Penn State in 1993, and he led a second expansion in 2014, with Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland joining the league. He also guided the Big Ten to implement the first replay system in major college football and, of course, the launch of the Big Ten Network has brought a wider range of notoriety — in addition to billions in extra revenue — for conference programs since 2007.

The conference will have some time, of course, to search for a replacement. But, Delany announced a few years ago he felt he was approaching a retirement from the commissioner’s post, and one name that always seems to get mentioned as a potential replacement was Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips. Not sure it ultimately goes that way, but there are certainly some interesting candidates among athletic directors around the conference.

Miller, Givens have solid Sundays at Combine

Miller, Givens have solid Sundays at Combine

Defensive linemen took to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday to wrap up their drills at the NFL Combine, and it was an interesting day for both Penn State defensive end Shareef Miller and defensive tackle Kevin Givens.

Here are their results:

 

Shareef Miller

Kevin Givens

Bench press

16 reps (18)

32 reps (t3)

40-yard dash

4.69 seconds (t10)

5.08 seconds (t17)*

Vertical jump

29.5 inches (19)

31 inches (t14)

Broad jump

DNP

115 inches (t9)

3-cone drill

DNP

7.63 seconds (12)

20-yard shuttle

4.45 seconds (12)

4.62 seconds (15)

60-yard shuttle

DNP

DNP

*The numbers I’m giving you are ones the NFL is listing on the Combine website. Givens, however, ran a much better time than a 5.08 in his second go-round, a 4.87. If that was the listed time — and I’m not sure why it’s not — he’d have had the seventh-best 40 among defensive linemen.

If there was a Penn State junior-eligible player who entered the Draft that I figured might go undrafted, it was Givens. But he was pretty impressive, if you’re a scout or general manager who loves the drills, then you’re going to really like what Givens was able to do. So, Givens probably bumped himself up some draft boards considerably.

The Combine wraps up this afternoon with the cornerbacks and safeties working out. Amani Oruwariye will get his chance to impress the scouts.

McSorley shines in Indy

McSorley shines in Indy

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Trace McSorley evidently was asked by a few teams at the NFL Combine this week to work out as a defensive back.

He did just fine at the position he wants to play in the NFL anyway.

McSorley participated in four drills on Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium and finished in the top seven among quarterbacks in every one, led by his blistering top speed in the 40-yard dash.

Here are his numbers.

Trace McSorley

Bench press

DNP

40-yard dash

4.57 (1)

Vertical jump

33 inches (t6)

Broad jump

115 inches (t7)

3-cone drill

DNP

20-yard shuttle

4.12 seconds (t2)

60-yard shuttle

DNP