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Penn State notebook: QB competition won't heat up any time soon

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 11:36 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Bill O'Brien talks with quarterback Steven Bench during the game against Temple on Sept. 22, 2012, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Spring seemed as far away Monday as the Aug. 31 opener against Syracuse, and the snow that blanketed Penn State's campus forced the football team inside as it started preparing for the 2013 season.

Sophomores Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson zinged passes in Holuba Hall during Penn State's first spring practice, as each attempts to become the answer to the biggest question facing the Nittany Lions.

Who will replace record-setting quarterback Matt McGloin will be decided in the heat of August, coach Bill O'Brien reiterated, not the bluster of March. And there is a chance neither quarterback will be tabbed to run O'Brien's complex offense, even though they will split time with the first-team offense this spring.

O'Brien said prized freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg will get an opportunity to compete for the starting job during preseason practice. O'Brien all but grimaced when asked if it would be ideal to redshirt Hackenberg, something that is done with most freshman.

“You bring these guys in, and unless they're injured, you're going to put them into the mix and let them compete, and you're going to play your best players,” O'Brien said.

Thin spots

Penn State has depth issues at several positions, including tailback, linebacker and defensive line.

Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton and freshman Akeel Lynch are the only scholarship players practicing exclusively at tailback. A linebacking corps that lost starters Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges and reserve Mike Yancich to graduation is also without Ben Kline (shoulder) this spring.

O'Brien is high on freshman Nyeem Wartman, who received a medical redshirt after injuring his knee in Penn State's second game of the season. Wartman has the inside track to join Canon-McMillan graduate Mike Hull as Penn State's starting outside linebackers, with Glenn Carson manning inside linebacker.

O'Brien also is looking forward to seeing how defensive tackles such as Kyle Baublitz, Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia try to fill the void left by the graduation of Jordan Hill and James Terry.

O'Brien has kept an eye on Dowrey and Gaia since former center Matt Stankiewitch praised the two last season.

“I remember him saying Gaia and Dowery were strong guys that can hold the point of attack, and that was good coming from an All-Big Ten center,” O'Brien said.

Injury update

Tight end Kyle Carter (wrist) and strong safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder) will take part in spring practice but will be held out of contact drills.

Tight end Adam Breneman, a highly coveted recruit who enrolled in January, has been cleared to practice but O'Brien said the freshman will be monitored closely.

Breneman missed his senior season at Cedar Cliff after tearing his ACL last June.

Staying put

Miles Dieffenbach started at left guard last season, and he is staying there even though an updated roster released last Friday listed the Fox Chapel graduate as a center.

O'Brien said there was simply a misprint on the roster.

Ty Howle opens spring practice as the No. 1 center, with Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent also vying to replace Stankiewitch. Mangiro has been hampered by a hamstring injury, O'Brien said.

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ ScottBrown_Trib.

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