Penn State Nittany Lions: Paul Jones

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:00
PM ET
Spring games on the horizon at Michigan State, Rutgers and Iowa. Read all about it:
  • Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and Michigan State’s Mark Hollis weigh in against the unionization of college athletes in advance of the Northwestern vote.
  • Big plans and expectations for Michigan State defensive end Demetrius Cooper. Quarterback Connor Cook goes No. 1 in the MSU draft, conducted by players, for the upcoming spring game. And walk-on receiver Matt Macksood has made an impact this spring.
  • The MihWolverines might need their defense to carry a big load.
  • Penn State has no official position on the return of a Joe Paterno statue to State College. But the school should take a stance on the former coach’s legacy, writes our Josh Moyer.
  • Kyle Flood plans to spend more time than in the past involved in the details during Rutgers’ spring game on Saturday. Meanwhile, running back Paul James continues to fight through injuries.
  • The Washington Post offers a favorable grade for Maryland football coaching salaries in comparison to the rest of its new league.
  • Big raises for Minnesota coordinators Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover.
  • Jake Rudock strengthens his hold on the starting quarterback job at Iowa.
  • Urban Meyer is not an advocate for spring football at Ohio high schools, but he’d like to young players receive an opportunity to spend more time with their coaches in the offseason.
  • The band 1984 Draft, its name inspired by a Nebraska fan, help keeps alive the memory of a historic period for the Huskers.
Christian HackenbergAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg, the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, will start the opener at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Four months ago, Christian Hackenberg was kicking up sand near the dugout as part of the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy baseball team.

He was finding free time, between baseball and classwork, to break out flash cards and study the Penn State playbook -- names of plays and formations on one side and blank on the other, so he could scribble what they looked like. He'd catch himself daydreaming about running through that Beaver Stadium tunnel and launching touchdown passes behind a cheering crowd.

Now? All that studying, dreaming and summer training has culminated in what he's waited to achieve since Feb. 29, 2012, the day he committed to the Nittany Lions: According to sources, he is the starting quarterback at Penn State.

Hackenberg's father had initially weighed the value of a redshirt, but that was before the senior high school season of ESPN's top-rated passer. And a lot has changed in Happy Valley since then. Sophomore Steven Bench, who some expected to be a short-term Band-Aid, transferred to South Florida upon learning he wouldn't receive first-team reps in the preseason. Then juco quarterback Tyler Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts for personal reasons.

Ferguson still held the edge early in camp. But Hackenberg, perhaps the biggest-name quarterback to ever sign a Penn State letter of intent, quickly caught up and impressed the coaching staff. A week into camp, head coach Bill O'Brien said the race became "very even." Less than three weeks later, Hackenberg pulled ahead. He'll be the second PSU true freshman in the last 100 years to be the starting quarterback.

"Christian has come in here and really done a nice job," O'Brien said early on at camp. "He's attentive. He must be staying up late at night studying the playbook because he's come from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3 and improved. And he asks great questions in the meetings."

Hackenberg's strong arm dazzled onlookers at last year's Elite 11 and the Under Armour All-America Game, and the baby-faced quarterback already shows more ability to stretch the field than his predecessor, Matt McGloin. During part of an open practice two weeks ago, some reporters muttered "woah" when Hackenberg zipped a pass against his body to the opposite sideline -- right at the receiver's numbers.

Between his arm, accuracy and size -- he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds -- Hackenberg's potential and raw ability have never really come into question. Talent is oozing from the aw-shucks kid whose father attended high school in Pennsylvania.

Recruiting analysts, opposing players, college coaches and former quarterbacks have thrown almost as much praise Hackenberg's way as they did to O'Brien after an emotional, 8-4 first season. Said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer: "Christian is a kid you build a program around."

But potential and high accolades don't always translate to success -- at least not immediately. Former No. 1-rated QB Matt Stafford struggled as a freshman at Georgia and threw 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw seven scores to six interceptions. USC's Matt Barkley had a 15:14 ratio of TDs to interceptions in his first season. ESPN rated each the No. 1 quarterback in his respective class, and all are in the NFL.

So what does that mean for Hackenberg? That future greatness does not necessarily equate to immediate success. Opposing high school coaches have said Hackenberg struggled diagnosing disguised coverages, and the schemes and talent of Big Ten defenses will obviously lie in stark contrast to those Hackenberg saw in high school.

McGloin didn't have the strongest arm but he was a great decision-maker, throwing 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2012. Hackenberg is not expected to top those numbers this year, but he is expected to show promise.

The Nittany Lions have had their fair share of busts and underachieving quarterbacks over the years -- Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, Anthony Morelli and Kevin Newsome, to name a few -- but this Lions group also has something different nowadays, namely O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

O'Brien molded McGloin, a former walk-on, into a player the Big Ten blog thought deserved consideration for the Davey O'Brien Award. What can he do with the best true freshman quarterback prospect in the nation, one who turned down teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia?

We'll start to see at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
CHICAGO -- When asked about the absence of junior college quarterback Tyler Ferguson, Bill O'Brien has usually fallen back on a familiar refrain: What's the big deal? Summer workouts aren't mandatory.

He expressed that sentiment Friday and, during Big Ten media days this week, he again brushed off a question about the kind of setback the Californian's month-long absence might be: "The last time I read the NCAA rule book, summer's voluntary."

O'Brien's absolutely right. But workouts sure are important -- and, for the quite a while now, those workouts have basically been "voluntarily mandatory." Players, especially potential starters, just don't miss them. Summer is when the team bonds, when those talks over lunch and those unwatched 7-on-7s translate to touchdowns and passing yards in the fall.


 
In a stunning bit of spring news, Penn State announced Wednesday that sophomore quarterback Steven Bench is transferring.

It's a shocking development since Bench was competing for the starting job and entered spring practice with the upper hand on the position as the Nittany Lions' only returning scholarship quarterback. No reason was given for Bench's decision.

Soon after the announcement, Bench tweeted: "I've decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential."

"I have been meeting with all the players this week with my evaluation of where they are at related to football and academics and to discuss what they need to work on this summer," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said in a statement released by the school. "After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere. We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him anyway we can."

O'Brien had said that Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson were even in the quarterback competition after spring practice concluded last week. Both players had similar stats in Penn State's spring game.

"I think both guys did some really good things," O'Brien said after the game. "I've said that all spring. I'd say, no, I'm not any closer as I sit here right now. Eventually, I'll have to make a decision.”

So what changed for Bench, who appeared in two games last year as Matt McGloin's backup? Was it clear to him that he'd fallen behind in the quarterback race? Or was he nudged out the door for some reason? (For what it's worth, Bench tweeted, "What did I do to deserve this?" earlier on Wednesday, though we've seen with college athletes and Twitter that it's often dangerous to read too much -- or anything -- into a single tweet.) A team spokesman said the move was not related to academics and was Bench's decision.

We'll wait for answers as to why Bench is leaving State College. For now, we know that Ferguson is the starting quarterback, and that the possibility of redshirting incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg has grown much slimmer. O'Brien might not have choice but to play Hackenberg right away, as the only other quarterbacks on the depth chart are walk-ons D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple. But it's going to be tough for any young quarterback to master O'Brien's system in such a short period of time.

Ferguson will be given every chance now to prove he can handle the job. Bench, meanwhile, will join Rob Bolden and Paul Jones as once-promising quarterbacks who have left Penn State in the past year.

UPDATE: It appears Bench decided to transfer after learning that Ferguson had won the job. While he told NittanyNation's Josh Moer that the decision wasn't totally based on falling to No. 2 on the depth chart, he also said the following about his meeting with O'Brien:

"It's out of my control, but I wasn't happy with it," he said. "I'm a competitor, so I'm not going to agree with that decision. But, at the same time, it's his decision and it's out of my control. I feel that it kind of left me no choice. I don't want to back anyone up. I want to play. I came here to play football."
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.

Robert Passaro writes in an email: Everyone seems to be anointing Christian Hackenberg as the starter if not this year then next. What happens if Steven Bench really shows he can manage this offense this year and leads us to an 8-4 record or better?


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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With just four days until spring practice starts, NittanyNation decided to look into its crystal ball to find out what could await Penn State this season.

Who'll be the opening-day starter at quarterback? And what run-on could end up starting? Here's what we think:


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Next man up: Replacing McGloin

January, 4, 2013
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Steven BenchLee Coleman/Icon SMISteven Bench is in line to be the next starting quarterback for Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into next season, NittanyNation takes a closer look at holes left by departing Penn State players and the candidates who might fill them.

QUARTERBACK

Who: Matt McGloin came into Penn State as a no-name walk-on and leaves after posting one of the best seasons in PSU history. He was the most valuable player on this offense -- arguably on this team -- and he was a confident leader who limited his mistakes and directed comebacks. No departing player might be missed as much as McGloin next season.

By the numbers: Penn State boasted the No. 35 passing offense in the nation. McGloin finished with 3,266 yards and a 60.5 percent completion rate -- but his most impressive stat was his touchdown-to-interception ratio, which stood at 24-to-5.

(Read full post)

In spite of the sanctions, the Nittany Lions' recruiting class has held up remarkably well. It's currently ranked No. 24 in the nation and features the nation's top quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and top tight end in Adam Breneman.

Without the specter of the sanctions, this class would be even better. But how does it rank now compared to past Penn State classes? Is this class just as good, or has it noticeably slid a little?

NittanyNation takes a look back at the last four classes and sees how 2013 stacks up.

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QB Paul Jones announces transfer

November, 12, 2012
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Bill O'BrienMatthew O'Haren/Icon SMIPaul Jones is the fourth PSU quarterback to transfer in four years.

Quarterback Paul Jones, who left the Penn State football team for personal reasons in September, announced on Twitter he planned to transfer to FCS school Robert Morris.

Colonials spokesman Spencer Kowitz acknowledged the university was recruiting Jones but said his transfer was not yet official. Jones could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jones expressed reservations early in the season when Bill O'Brien demoted him to the third string and moved his primary position to tight end. Jones told the media he moved past the switch but ultimately left the team a few weeks later.

Robert Morris, which is about 12 miles from Jones' Sto-Rox High School, is 4-6 this season. Its starting quarterback, Jeff Sinclair, will graduate -- so Jones would be expected to compete for the starting job.

Jones, a redshirt sophomore, leaves Penn State without attempting a single pass. Academic issues kept him on the sideline his first two seasons, and he leaves with one career catch for seven yards and one run for minus-7 yards.

He enrolled in Penn State as a high-end three-star quarterback whom ESPN ranked No. 33 at this position. He's the fourth Penn State quarterback to transfer in four years, following Pat Devlin, Kevin Newsome and Rob Bolden.

Breaking down PSU's remaining offers 

October, 11, 2012
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With about four scholarships left to give this year, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and his staff are treading carefully -- but that doesn't mean they're starting to relax.

Quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher has taken to the road this week, and Tuesday he was in Iowa. On Friday, O'Brien and assistant coach Charles London will be in Fork Union, Va.

They've been working the phones this week, and it appears the staff is now focusing on four positions for those remaining scholarships. Penn State might choose to hold on to two offers after signing day, just in case a player decides to bolt during the offseason, but the staff seems intent to sign players at these four positions.

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5 biggest surprises so far this season 

October, 10, 2012
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Bill O'BrienChristopher Weddle/Centre Daily Times/MCT/Getty ImagesBill O'Brien has Penn State on a four-game winning streak going into the bye.

No one would have blamed Bill O'Brien if his Penn State team managed to win just two games to this point. No one would have cursed his name if the offense struggled or regressed from last season.

But, somehow, some way, O'Brien and the Nittany Lions have tossed aside low expectations and won four straight heading into this bye week.

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Juco QB Jake Waters adds PSU offer 

October, 9, 2012
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Junior college quarterback Jake Waters (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western C.C.) tried to relax at Tuesday's practice.

He knew Penn State assistant Charlie Fisher was watching from the sideline, and he felt as if this was a tryout. The 6-foot-2 quarterback wanted to impress Penn State, to show he was deserving of an offer, so he consciously attempted not to press and just play his game.

Waters felt afterward he succeeded. And he was rewarded when Fisher approached him following practice and finally extended that offer.

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Bill O'BrienMatthew O'Haren/Icon SMIWhen PSU quarterback Paul Jones (above) left the team, it opened Jake Waters' eyes.

Junior college quarterback Jake Waters (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western C.C.) never gave up hope.

When he graduated alongside 43 other students from a private high school, he didn't hold a single offer -- FBS or FCS -- so he headed down the road to the local community college. After a medical redshirt and one season under his belt, he earned an offer from top-ranked FCS school North Dakota State.

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Catching up with PSU's transfers 

September, 30, 2012
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Nine players transferred around the time the sanctions were announced, and NittanyNation has checked in with each player to see how he's doing on his new team.

We've taken a look at their playing time and stats -- and have tried to answer whether each player is better off with the move. We're not talking bowl games or individual priorities here; we're strictly answering whether the exposure/playing time is better on the new squad.

(Derrick Thomas and Devon Smith are not included because they left the team in June, a month before the sanctions hit.) QB Rob Bolden, junior, LSU

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Notebook: DT Hill adjusting to new role

September, 28, 2012
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Jordan Hill knew expectations for him were high entering this season. He couldn't forget. A tour bus features his mug, and his name is plastered on two awards lists.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hill
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJordan Hill's stats have diminished because he's the subject of constant double-teams, but the senior is embracing his new role.
He expected to take over for Devon Still, who was drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals, and build off last season. He didn't expect this. He didn't know he'd tackle just one ball-carrier in the backfield through four games.

"It's been really different to me, especially the first two games," Hill said. "I was really game-planned around. Teams were running away from me and double-teaming me. ... It's a little different from what I've been used to."

After Ohio, he shifted from the one-technique -- just outside of the center -- to his usual three-technique spot just outside the guard. He has recorded just five solo tackles this season, but he said he's becoming more accustomed to his role.

"I've come a long way, I would say. I'm just getting used to it and accepting it's going to happen," he said, referring to double teams.

Hill said he felt most comfortable this past week, and it showed. He finished second on the team in tackles with seven, forced a fumble and recorded a sack.

The senior DT said he's learned, when two linemen come at him, he just has to focus on one. He can't take on both players at once, and he knows he'll likely face double-teams throughout the season.

"Knowing that someone's game-planning against you is a good thing, I guess," he said. "It has to leave somebody open, whether it's another defensive tackle or a lineman or a linebacker, somebody has to be free. You can't be selfish."

(Read full post)

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