By Joe Juliano
The Philadelphia Inquirer
STATE COLLEGE -- The days leading up to Penn State’s season opener are dwindling but not the number of questions directed at head coach Bill O’Brien as to the identity of the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback.
And one could tell Thursday, on a conference call set up to discuss the Lions’ season opener against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, that O’Brien was growing weary of the questions.
O’Brien had said Tuesday that he’d name a starter between sophomore Tyler Ferguson and freshman Christian Hackenberg by the end of the week. When asked Thursday to clarify when the day might be, O’Brien sounded a bit testy.
“I don’t know; it might not come until next week,“ O’Brien said. “You know what? It might come on the first play of the game on offense against Syracuse.
“We’re all into this clarification stuff. It’s my job to run this football team. I’m always going to do what’s best for the football team. As long as I’m the head football coach here, I will always do that. This has nothing to do with indecisiveness or doing this or doing that.
“All I care about is that the guys in our team meeting room know where we are headed. And our players have a very clear direction of where we are headed on both sides of the ball.“
Ferguson, a sophomore who transferred from a California junior college, had a slight lead coming into preseason camp because he participated in spring football drills with the Lions. Freshman Christian Hackenberg, who didn’t arrive on campus until June, has looked good in camp, and O’Brien considers him even with Ferguson.
“I think the biggest thing is, we have two really good young quarterbacks and really my biggest focus and concern is with the football team,“ O’Brien said. “Those guys will both have to be ready to play for us this year.“
Coincidentally, Syracuse also is having a quarterback competition and first-year head coach Scott Shafer said he won’t name his starter publicly before the game. Shafer spent the previous four years as the Orange’s defensive coordinator but has hired an offensive coordinator who is new to Syracuse, so the Lions could be guessing.
“I think in this day and age of college football, you have to be ready for everything,“ O’Brien said. “Whether it’s a pro-style attack or a shotgun-run attack, whatever it is, we do it all offensively here at Penn State. We give our defense exposure to a lot of different schemes. Hopefully our guys are ready to go against Syracuse.“
O’Brien said that sophomore Ben Kline, the Lions’ top backup linebacker, has returned to practice. Kline missed spring practice because of shoulder surgery and much of preseason camp. ... The coach identified four true freshmen - Hackenberg, tight end Adam Breneman, offensive tackle Andrew Nelson and wide receiver/kick returner Richy Anderson - who could help the team “down the road.“ He also mentioned freshman running back Von Walker as a “run-on. ... that I think can help us on special teams.“
)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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