The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 20, 2013

College football: O'Brien to name Lions starting QB soon

Both players to get time early on

Daily Item

---- — By Tim Owen

For The Daily Item

STATE COLLEGE -- Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien isn't ready to name a starting quarterback yet, but the announcement is just days away.

O'Brien met with reporters before Tuesday's afternoon practice session and said both candidates -- freshman Christian Hackenberg and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, a sophomore -- are still competing to be the starting Nittany Lion signal caller. But O'Brien wants to announce a starter this week, in order to give him a full week of preparation before the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31 in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

"I told the team this yesterday: These are two of the best young quarterbacks I've ever coached," O'Brien said. "Tyler is 19 years old, and Christian is 18. I'd say by the end of the week, we'll make a decision on who will start the Syracuse game."

O'Brien added that even though he'll name a starter soon, the other candidate must be prepared to play. He wants both quarterbacks to see playing time early in the season.

O'Brien wouldn't concede who had the edge in the two-man race, but he added that he has confidence in both quarterbacks.

"I've never had more fun coaching quarterbacks than I've had coaching these two guys," O'Brien continued. "They're bright guys. They work at it, they compete in practice, they've got good demeanors, they've got good huddle command. I've had a lot of fun coaching both of these guys."

Zwinak to play

First-string running back Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 1,000 yards in 2012, is expected to play in the opener vs. Syracuse.

Zwinak injured his left wrist in the Blue-White Game in April and the injury required surgery. He rehabbed the left wrist throughout most of summer workouts and began preseason practice wearing a red jersey, meaning his contact with other players was limited. That was quite an adjustment for Zwinak, considering he's 240 pounds and known for his bruising running style. So even though defenders weren't allowed to hit him, he was still trying run them over.

On Tuesday, Zwinak showed up to practice wearing his normal white No. 28 practice jersey and practiced full-go with his teammates. All signs point toward him being the starter against the Orange.

"He's ready to go," O'Brien said. "He took the red jersey off ... I think it was last week. He had the red jersey on and he was hitting guys and the defensive backs, they were like, 'Coach, he has a red jersey on, so shouldn't he have that off if he's going to hit us?' So, we decided to take it off and he's done well."

Beaver Stadium tour

On Monday night after team meetings, O'Brien led the Nittany Lions through a twilight tour of Beaver Stadium. While they walked through the dark stadium, O'Brien gave a history lesson about the tradition of Penn State, its former coaches, standout players and defining moments.

"It was really great," said senior linebacker Glenn Carson. "It was something that I think we should've done in years past because a lot of people know about the tradition, but just to walk around (the stadium), you can feel the tradition and the history of Penn State and how important putting on that jersey is."

Selinsgrove graduate Ryan Keiser, who is a junior defensive back and placement holder for the Nittany Lions, called it the highlight of his preseason camp. And as the season climbs closer, he feels the camaraderie growing among his teammates.

"Just being together as a team and jelling," he said. "We're coming together, I think. We're really starting to get going."