Penn State Nittany Lions: Austin Whipple

QB Ferguson to transfer from Penn State

December, 4, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson was granted a release from his scholarship Monday and will seek a transfer elsewhere, he told ESPN.com.

The sophomore asked for his release prior to the departure of quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher and sent his release papers to about 50 schools, roughly 40 in the FBS and 10 in the FCS. He hopes to land somewhere in time for spring classes.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTyler Ferguson played well in spring practice but was eventually passed by Christian Hackenberg as Penn State's No. 1 QB in preseason.
"I'm just wanting to play somewhere," Ferguson said. "I really don't have any preference where that is; I just want to play somewhere."

Ferguson enrolled at Penn State in January and overtook the lone returning quarterback, Steven Bench, during spring practice to become the No. 1 QB. Bench transferred to South Florida, but true freshman Christian Hackenberg then surpassed Ferguson on the depth chart in the preseason.

The former junior-college standout finished this season playing in five games. He went 10-of-15 for 155 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Rumors circulated before the season that Ferguson intended to transfer because he was homesick for Bakersfield, Calif. He left campus for several weeks in July for family reasons but told ESPN.com that the thought of transferring back then never entered his mind.

It was only in the past two or three weeks, during talks with his father, that he believed it might be best to seek an opportunity elsewhere.

"After the Wisconsin game, we sat down with [Bill] O'Brien and he agreed that I could play somewhere else," Ferguson said. "And we both agreed Christian is a hell of a player."

Ferguson said proximity to home was not a factor in his decision to leave Penn State, nor will it be in where he'll wind up next. He weighed getting a degree from Penn State as a backup quarterback but ultimately decided to finish his education as a potential starter elsewhere.

"I just want a school that says, 'You're going to come in and compete,'" Ferguson said. "And whether that's -- and I'm just throwing this school out there as an example -- Boston College or Fresno State. If that gives me the best chance to compete and they're a good team, one of the top four teams in their conference or something like that, that'd be great."

With Ferguson's departure, Hackenberg is currently the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. However, ESPN 300 quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), a four-star PSU commit, is set to enroll in January.

Three preferred walk-ons -- D.J. Crook, Austin Whipple and Jack Seymour -- are also on the roster.

Ferguson will finish out the semester in State College before flying west to California. And he said his time at Penn State, however short, was memorable.

"I don't think I could've possibly learned more football from any school than I did from coaches O'Brien and Fisher," he said. "I'm very grateful."

PSU position preview: Quarterback

August, 29, 2013
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As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Saturday. Today is the last installment: Quarterback.

Projected starter: Christian Hackenberg (2012 HS stats: 156-of-291 for 2,144 yards; 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions)

Key losses: Matt McGloin (2012 stats: 270-of-446 for 3,266 yards; 24 touchdowns, five interceptions)

Next in line: No, Bill O'Brien still hasn't publicly announced a starter -- but that appears to be Hackenberg, with juco signal-caller Tyler Ferguson as the backup. Ferguson will still see time at points this year, so last year's McGloin-Steven Bench split shouldn't be repeated.

D.J. Crook is listed as the third-string quarterback, while Austin Whipple is likely No. 4. Freshman walk-on Jack Seymour, who turned down MAC scholarship offers, is No. 5.

What to expect: Let's start off with what NOT to expect -- and that's a repeat of last season's 24:5 TD-to-INT ratio. Hackenberg is one of those players, his high school coach said, who comes along once or twice in a career. But that doesn't necessarily equate to immediate success.

Even NFL quarterback Matt Stafford, whom ESPN rated the No. 1 QB back in his class, threw nearly twice as many picks as touchdowns in his first season. So there's no easy way to place expectations on Hackenberg here. For every Stafford, there's a Chad Henne -- somebody who breaks out as a true freshman and ties some school passing records.

Hackenberg boasts all the tools for success -- throwing power, accuracy, mobility, size -- but he needs to improve upon reading defenses. All freshmen do. This year may be a wild card, but the future is bright for Hackenberg. Penn State's just hoping that future comes sooner rather than later.

Recruiting trail: ESPN 300 quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) will enroll early, and he'll bring some much-needed depth to the position. He's a quality player who, if needed, could contribute right away.

O'Brien likes to go after the best players available, and that was O'Connor. He wasn't a "need" pick. O'Brien offered him a scholarship before Bench even transferred, a few weeks after he wowed assistant coach Charlie Fisher by calling out Penn State plays he saw on film. O'Connor is a quick study and, if everything goes as planned, could become a two-year starter following Hackenberg.

Best-case scenario: Hackenberg fares well in his first few starts during the nonconference season. There are some bumps but, overall, he keeps Penn State in games and earns the respect of fans and his teammates with his play. The Lions' offense breaks out with more big plays than ever thanks to Hackenberg's arm, and he earns a spot on the freshman All-American team. He peaks near the end of the season, guides PSU to an improved record and has fans clamoring about a title run in 2016.

Worst-case scenario: The true freshman's adjustment to the college game is a slow one, as he makes poor decisions that consistently lead to turnovers. O'Brien is forced to use Ferguson a bit more than anticipated, and a controversy looms. Hackenberg shows flashes of potential, giving fans hope, but he also shows he's just not yet ready to be a full-time starter. Penn State wins fewer than eight games as a result.

Top position question: Just how good can Hackenberg be? Well, he's bound for the NFL. That's … not something you usually say about an 18-year-old kid who's never taken a college snap. But every one of ESPN's top-rated quarterback recruits made it to the NFL upon graduation, and only one of the three younger quarterbacks still playing doesn't appear to have an NFL future. (Sorry, Phillip Sims.)

Russell Wilson played in the same high school league as Hackenberg, and most coaches there said Wilson is the better QB. Still, it's close. Expectations are big enough here that Hackenberg would be a disappointment if he didn't make it to the NFL.

How good can he be? He could be the best since Kerry Collins. But that's all a game of "what ifs" right now. Obviously, his potential is high -- but we should get a glimpse Saturday of just what he's capable of.

Notes on PSU's newest depth chart

August, 26, 2013
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Penn State's depth chart was released on Monday and, much to no one's surprise, a starting quarterback was not named. An "OR" appears next to the names of Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg.

Still, there were a few notable changes on the depth chart and in the game notes:
  • Adam Gress was nursing an injury last week, and he was not listed as the definite starter at right tackle. He's still battling with TE-turned-OT Garry Gilliam. Bill O'Brien will likely update Gress' progress on Tuesday.
  • Von Walker, a run-on whom O'Brien complimented last week, is listed as competing for the No. 2 kickoff return spot with Akeel Lynch. Walker is an athlete whom PSU hopes to utilize as a slotback. This might be the biggest surprise on the depth chart. You can read more about Walker here.
  • D.J. Crook is listed as the third-string quarterback. He was competing with Austin Whipple and Jack Seymour for the No. 3 spot. He was listed as the third-stringer on the post-spring depth chart as well.
  • Bill Belton is still listed as the No. 2 tailback, ahead of Lynch ... but that likely doesn't mean much. Both will see carries.
  • There's an "OR" listed next to Malcolm Willis' name, signifying he's still competing with Ryan Keiser at safety. Willis is obviously expected to be the starter -- barring injury. O'Brien will undoubtedly be asked about that on Tuesday.
  • Middle linebacker Glenn Carson is still listed as the snapper at punter, despite picking up a run-on whose specialty is snapping and having Howle snapping on field goals.
Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer in-depth this week.

Brian Santoro (@santoro_brian) writes: In your opinion, does Christian Hackenberg start this year?


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NittanyNation mailbag: Breakout players 

February, 15, 2013
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Mike HullJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesLinebacker Mike Hull's strength and athleticism make him a great candidate to become a breakout star.


Welcome to NittanyNation's bi-weekly mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions this week, and we've selected three to answer in-depth.

Adam Puzio (@Adam_Puzio) writes: Who do you think will be the biggest breakout players (the Robinson/Carter/Barnes/Amos) of 2013?

Josh Moyer: Well, you gave me four names -- so I'll give you four. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: Linebacker Mike Hull. He had the highest bench press on the team, better than the likes of 324-pound DT DaQuan Jones. He was also so quick that former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley once tried him out at safety. He's not the prototypical size of a linebacker, but he has pretty much everything else going for him. He was a big-play magnet last year, and he could be the next big thing at Linebacker U. In a secondary that's lacking depth, Hull's pass-coverage ability will be extremely important.

As far as the other three, I'm really high on OT Donovan Smith. You saw, early in the season, the impact his absence had on the line. When Adam Gress was in there instead of Smith, it was completely different. Smith has NFL potential, and I think this will be a big breakout year for him. I wouldn't at all be surprised if he made the All-Big Ten first team. The other two players I think are worth watching include wideout Eugene Lewis and defensive tackle Austin Johnson. Lewis, a high school quarterback, is an incredible athlete who just needed a season to learn routes and the playbook. He could slide into the No. 2 WR role this season. He's a playmaker.


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Run-ons overview: Offense 

February, 11, 2013
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Here's a list -- complete with film and notes -- on Penn State's offensive run-ons.


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Lions spotlight: QB Tyler Ferguson 

January, 31, 2013
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Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Quarterback Tyler Ferguson, Bakersfield (Calif.) College of the Sequoias, 6-foot-4, 200 pounds.

Committed: Dec. 14, 2012.

ESPN.com grade: 77. Three-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: N/A

Picked Penn State over: Akron, Florida Atlantic and Houston.


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Christian HackenbergCourtesy of Charles Thomas/Fork UnionWith size and arm ability, Christian Hackenberg will be groomed as Penn State's QB of the future.

Two months ago, Penn State had just one committed quarterback -- and that seemed like a pressing issue that might take a while to resolve. With just one QB officially on the roster in Steven Bench, depth was obviously a concern.

Well, it certainly isn't anymore. Bill O'Brien garnered commitments from five players who'll compete at quarterback. And he also convinced four other players -- who were the starting quarterbacks on their respective teams -- to play at other positions at Penn State.

NittanyNation takes a closer look at all these signal-callers:

QUARTERBACKS WHO WILL STAY QBs

Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy
Stats: Passing -- 156-of-291; 2,144 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs. Rushing -- 89 carries, 436 yards, 3 TDs.
Status: Committed (scholarship)

Synopsis: He's the top-rated high school quarterback in the nation. He can make all the throws, has a great arm, and his potential is endless. He just needs to familiarize himself with the playbook and better learn to read defenses. Opposing coaches said he had difficulty picking up disguised coverages and blitzes. He's obviously Penn State's quarterback of the future.


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What kind of player is Penn State getting here in preferred walk-on Austin Whipple? And what can fans expect?

NittanyNation turned to one of the people who knows most what Whipple is capable of on the field -- his postgraduate coach at Salisbury (Conn.) School -- and asked what separates him as a player, how he first noticed Whipple's ability and when he especially showcased his FBS potential.

Whipple's father, Mark, is good friends with Bill O'Brien. And Mark is the quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns -- so Austin Whipple is no stranger to pro-style offenses.

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