- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A year ago, Daryll Clark was an unproven commodity competing for Penn State's starting quarterback spot alongside Pat Devlin. Clark now finds himself at the helm of the Nittany Lions as arguably the best quarterback in the Big Ten.
He beat out Devlin for the top job and went on to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, tallying 2,592 passing yards and 19 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Clark added 282 rush yards and 10 touchdowns for the nation's 14th-rated offense. After helping guide Penn State to an 11-2 mark and a Rose Bowl appearance, the 6-foot-2, 233-pound senior steps into a primary leadership position this spring on an offense that returns only five starters.
Here are Clark's thoughts on spring practice, his emergence last fall and the coming challenges for Penn State.
How different has this spring been for you as opposed to last year?
Daryll Clark: Last spring, it was a big decision on who was going to be the quarterback. It was competition. Whereas now, it's a little bit different. With Kevin Newsome being here, he's a freshman, he has a lot to learn. So this is a time for me to critique the mistakes I made from the past season and fine-tune everything I have to, to become a better quarterback and a better asset to this football team. Just become a bigger and better leader. There was a lot of help with all of the seniors we had last year. We have some this year, and our coaches have been calling upon a lot of our young guys to step to the forefront because we're going to need a lot of leadership to step up this year and fill some gaps. There are a lot of positions up in the air this spring. It's been real interesting. The first practice was pretty weird going out there and not seeing those three wideouts that I'm used to seeing [Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood].
Have you spent a lot of time watching those position battles at O-line and wide receiver?
DC: It's kind of tough to watch because I'm practicing in the thick of things throughout the entire practice. My reps are not limited. My main thing is just trying to get the timing down with all the wide receivers we have now. And it's going very well. With Derrick, Deon and Jordan, after the  Alamo Bowl game, we started working on timing two weeks after. The same thing happened after the Rose Bowl this year with the younger guys. We have everyone on the same page to what we're trying to get accomplished this year, both offensively and defensively. Things have been pretty much going back and forth each practice, so that's a pretty good thing. Our wideouts are doing a great job of catching the ball, downfield blocking and making runs after the catch. Everything is on the up and up right now.
Who has stood out to you among the young guys?
DC: No one's really stood out. I think everyone is working at an even rate -- at a high rate, actually. To name a few, Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Brett Brackett, Graham Zug, James McDonald, those guys really know that they're going to play this year, so it's important that they get everything down, get the whole terminology of the offense down and get used to the positions that they're going to play. I really haven't seen any nerves or anything like that because a lot of the guys have been playing, but just didn't get as many reps as our senior receivers from last year. They've played in a couple games already. Now they're going to be moving into a starting role, so I think they'll be ready.
The three guys last year had similar body types [small, fast]. How is it different throwing to bigger guys? You have a little bit more variety there. Can that be a benefit? Is it more of a challenge?
DC: It's a slight difference. You can take a couple more shots down the field and sometimes not even lead them too much, just throw it up and let those guys go up and get it. Both Derek Moye and Brett Brackett do a very good job of positioning themselves to make plays. I think one is 6-4, one is 6-5. Huge difference from the other guys. The speed is there and the hands are there. It's going to be real interesting once we start really going against each other and when the season rolls around. Everyone's chomping at the bit right now because [outsiders] feel that this is a rebuilding year because we lost so much. We don't believe in that because a lot of guys playing now have played, just not as much.
Do you hear the rebuilding argument a lot? I know last year you used motivation from the outside personally and as a team.
DC: Yeah, I've heard it, I've read [about] it on the Internet, newspapers. I hear about it from a couple of friends back at home. I feel like we're going to be a team flying under the radar once more, as we did this past season. [They say] because of us losing a lot, we're going to fall backwards. But we don't believe in that. Me, Sean Lee and a bunch of the other guys that have been called upon to be captains and leaders -- we haven't voted for captains yet -- we've done a good job to get the young guys on the same state of mind that we're in as far as winning football games, letting everyone know what it takes to be winners. We believe we can get it done inside that football building with the coaches and my teammates. We believe we can do just as good as last season, if not better.
You mentioned how the offense and defense have been trading off in each practice. With the scrimmage on Saturday, it seemed like the defensive line had a really good day. Did you come out of that day excited about the defensive line or concerned about some of the young guys up front on offense?
DC: I really wasn't concerned about the guys up front because it was just our first scrimmage. And the offensive line, that unit takes the longest to jell. It takes some time to work as one. We had some bright lights in that scrimmage. It wasn't all just completely dominant by the defense. I didn't expect anything less from the defensive line. Our defensive line is one of our strong points. We have one of the best defensive lines in the country. Those guys really fly to the ball, and they're very fundamentally sound. To see it happen that way, I wouldn't say it was surprising. We just set a mark, and from watching that film, we'll just get be
tter from it and go from there. I didn't expect anything spectacular from the guys because this was our first live scrimmage with that new offensive line.
How have the backup quarterbacks come along so far this spring? Kevin obviously still could be in high school right now, so there'll be an adjustment there. It seems like Matt [McGloin] played well in the scrimmage.
DC: Oh, yeah. I was just about to talk about Matt McGloin. He's been around a little bit longer, so he knows the game a little bit more. I'm really impressed with Kevin because he's always asking questions and trying to learn something new about this offense. He's shocked a lot of people with his arm strength. I know for a fact, once everything comes together for him, he's going to be a very, very good quarterback. He's shown some bright spots since he's been here.
You said your reps aren't limited at all. As far as contact, are they being pretty careful with you? How much are you doing?
DC: I'm not being touched. I'm the only quarterback with the red jersey, and that means 'Don't touch him.' If you get close to me, tap me or something like that, the play is dead. So they're being pretty cautious.
Do you mind that? Did you expect it?
DC: Yeah, I expected that. I don't mind it either way. I've never shied away from contact. That's just a precautionary thing that they use and that they've believed in for many years, so I just go with it.
You talked at the start of the spring about the lingering feeling from the Rose Bowl loss. Do you still feel that now? Is it in the back of your mind?
DC: I'll never forget that game at the Rose Bowl, simply because we were in that game. Some things we were doing were so uncharacteristic of us. We weren't converting on third downs, and that was highly unlike us throughout the whole season. A couple plays here, a throw here, a throw there, I missed the receiver here, you tie those things up after you watch film and realize, 'Man, we really could have been in this football game if we had just executed a little bit better.' So we forgot about the game, but we didn't forget about the game. And that's something that's motivating us to try and make it back out to the Rose Bowl because obviously this year, it'll be the national championship [game].
I was talking with Sean [Lee] and he said that is still the expectation there, even with all the team lost.
DC: Absolutely. If you don't have that high goal, you shouldn't be playing football, no matter what type of talent you have. And with Sean, he's been such a great leader both on and off the field. It's going to be really, really good to see him back on that football field.
Would you like to be a captain?
DC: Absolutely. I'm auditioning right now.
Was last year important for you to get a taste of leadership but not have to be the guy? It seems like you recognize how important you are in that role this year.
DC: Oh, yes, and I knew this was going to come. Last year, the way that it happened for us and how many people we had to lead, the captains, leaders, it helped me a little bit because I didn't have to do it all. Since we went through this past season and the way it worked, I feel that I'm ready to take on that big-time leadership role now. Just the mental preparation that I had to go through. Now I feel like it's coming. I've done a good job of keeping everyone together, along with some other seniors as well. It's going to be a bigger role. The coaches are really depending on me to be a bigger and better leader, and I'm ready for that. I'm ready to take any responsibilities that they need me to take.
2dSam Khan Jr.