Penn State Looking for a Quarterback to Emerge as Spring Practice Starts

Trace McSorley - Paul Burdick
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (EYT) – Penn State head coach James Franklin is hoping to enter the summer with a starting quarterback but he wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

(Photo of Trace McSorley in action during the Michigan State game last season. Photo by Paul Burdick. Check out more of Burdick’s work here)

For the first time in what is going to be his third season at Penn State, the Nittany Lion head coach is looking for a new quarterback to replace the departed Christian Hackenberg, who left after his junior season to enter the NFL draft.

“I think you always would like to try to have your quarterback named as easy as possible so they can go into the summer and really take a hold of the team,” Franklin said during his media conference Monday. “But we don’t want to make that decision just because of that. We want to make sure we’re making the right decision. And if that becomes obvious very early on, great. If it needs to go to summer camp, we’re willing to go to summer camp. And if it needs to be the first game that could be the case as well.”

Heading into Spring Practice, which starts Friday, the competition to replace Hackenberg appears to be a two-horse race between redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens. True freshman Jake Zembiec could also get into the mix once he arrives on campus.

“I think it wouldn’t surprise me if that goes to camp, just as competitive as those two guys have been with each other,” Franklin said. “And you never know what’s going to happen with a guy like Jake Zembiec, you just never know. It’s hard to keep him part of the equation right now because we haven’t seen him. But you never know. It wouldn’t surprise me if that goes to camp.”

McSorley is the only one of the quarterbacks with collegiate game experience having appeared in seven games last year as Hackenberg’s backup going 20 of 40 for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

Most of that action came in the Tax Slayer Bowl when he replaced an injured Hackenberg in the second quarter going 14 of 27 passing for 142 yards and two touchdowns and being named Penn State’s Tax Slayer Bowl MVP.

“I think the Bowl game was obviously import for Trace because he got into a game at a point where it had not already been decided and really made some plays,” Franklin said. “He made some tough throws, made some plays with his feet. He really took control and showed some fire on the sideline and had fun doing it. That was great for him, I think, and his confidence going into the season and really for the coaches as well because you never truly know until someone gets in there in that type of situation. I think he did pretty well.”

Stevens, at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds is bigger than McSorley, who is listed at 6-foot, 199 pounds. He played at Decatur Central High School in Indiana and was a two-time all-county and all-area selection who was also a 2014 All-State player as a defensive back.

As a high-school quarterback, he was a dual-threat throw for 16 touchdowns as a senior while also rushing for 842 yards and 10 scores and was rated a three-star prospect by all four major recruiting services.

“Tommy has a lot of the same traits as Trace from a leadership standpoint,” Franklin said. “The guys really like him on our team. Obviously, he has a different body type. He’s a big kid and he’s getting bigger every single day. His length, his movement, if you look at testing numbers, he didn’t test as well as Trace is terms of pro agility, in terms of 40 time. But if you talk to our players, he plays as fast as Trace on the field. He’s a got this long stride, and he’s a guy that could make plays with his arm and his feet.

“He’s handled everything really well. He’s embraces his role and his opportunity. He’s approaching this as if he is going to be the starter and believes that 100 percent. Trace feels the same way. I think, to be honest with, you there’s a lot of similar traits.”

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