Penn State football notebook: Junior-college transfer starts at QB
UNIVERSITY PARK — It was only the fifth session of spring practices, but the Penn State football team lined up Wednesday with a junior-college transfer as the first-team quarterback.
For one day anyway, Tyler Ferguson got the nod over sophomore Steven Bench, as the Nittany Lions wore full pads for the first time this spring.
Bench was impressive, throwing accurate passes and showing off his mobility on one play.
“The playbook that they have is probably 10 times what we have on defense,” senior safety Malcolm Willis said. “(Ferguson) has got a rocket. Both of the guys do. We just have to see what happens if both of them learn the playbook, both of them don't fold under pressure. Just the intangibles a quarterback has to have.”
Receiver Allen Robinson and defensive end Deion Barnes are hungry to add onto their breakout 2012 seasons, Willis said.
As a sophomore, Robinson was the No. 1 target for the offense, leading the Nittany Lions with 77 receptions for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdown.
“He reiterates everyday that he wants to be the best receiver in the country, and his work ethic shows it,” Willis said.
The safety added that Eugene Lewis is poised to step into a more prominent wideout role after “scorching the starting defense” on the scout team last year.
Barnes helped anchor the 2012 defense with a team-best six sacks and 10 tackles-for-loss. On Wednesday, he was more focused on the sacks that he missed. He remembered each one.
“One miss against Iowa,” Barnes said. “Two against Temple. I can't believe I missed one against Temple. He was right there. And Ohio State.”
Barnes added that strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald has helped to increase his lower body strength in the offseason, which improved his speed off the edge.
The graduations of Sean Stanley and Jordan Hill leave two clear vacancies on the defensive line heading into the summer and fall. Barnes said redshirt freshman Austin Johnson and redshirt junior Kyle Baublitz have made good cases through spring practice so far.
New linebackers, new coordinator
Last week, O'Brien said the linebacking corps would lose depth with the graduations of outside linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. The man in the middle, Glenn Carson, returns to lend first-team experience.
“Judging from spring ball so far, we're having really good practices and really competitive practices,” Carson said. “As long as we keep competing, I think that's the key. The offense getting after the defense, the defense getting after the offense, I think that's what really closes the gap for those who might not have some playing experience.”
Redshirt junior Mike Hull and redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman will likely step in as starters, barring any unforeseen setbacks. Hull received extensive playing time last year as a backup and on special teams. Wartman was injured for most of the season.
With Ted Roof's departure, John Butler now serves as the Lions' defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach. O'Brien is an offensive-minded head coach, so much of the defensive decisions will now fall to Butler.
“We're all familiar with him,” Carson said. “He's a familiar face. We're not going to change things up a whole ton. We're light years ahead of where we were last spring.”
Many players other than the quarterbacks donned red jerseys Wednesday, indicating that they were not to be touched.
Among them were tight end Adam Breneman (knee), tight end Kyle Carter (wrist) and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (shoulder).
Tackle Garry Gilliam didn't participate in practice as he deals with a minor calf injury. Otherwise, Carson said he's transitioned well from the tight end.
Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones also was sidelined. The nature of his injury is unknown.
Dan Norton is a freelance writer.