Bill O'Brien could upgrade Lions' QB play

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
5:15
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If Penn State fans are disappointed with the list of candidates for the school's head-coaching vacancy, they should check out another list: the school's recent quarterbacks.

This exercise isn't meant to further depress Nittany Lions supporters. It actually should get them excited about the team's future under new coach Bill O'Brien.

Bear with me here.

[+] EnlargePenn State's Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMatt McGloin (11), Rob Bolden (1) and all quarterbacks who follow could be the biggest beneficiaries of new coach Bill O'Brien.
One of the biggest knocks on Penn State during the Joe Paterno era was the team's inability to produce viable NFL quarterbacks. Unless Kerry Collins returns to an NFL team in 2012, Penn State will have no former quarterbacks playing quarterback at the next level (Michael Robinson is a running back for the Seattle Seahawks). The San Francisco 49ers in 2006 drafted Robinson as a running back, meaning that Penn State hasn't had a quarterback selected in the NFL draft since 1997, when the Baltimore Ravens selected Wally Richardson in the seventh round.

That's a stunning drought for a program considered a traditional power. In the Big Ten, only Minnesota and Nebraska have gone longer without having a quarterback selected.

Penn State has had only two other quarterbacks drafted -- Collins, a first-round pick in 1995, and Tony Sacca, a second-round pick in 1992 -- since Todd Blackledge in 1983. Sacca played only two games in his pro career. Blackledge played six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 29 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in his career.

While Penn State has produced some solid college quarterbacks -- most recently Daryll Clark, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year -- the program has been lacking at the position.

O'Brien could provide a boost at quarterback and for an offense that ranked 93rd nationally this season and that has finished in the top 30 nationally just twice (2002, 2008) since the 2000 season. One of the common complaints I've heard from Penn State fans, particularly the past two seasons, is that the team's offense is stuck in the past.

O'Brien has worked with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play -- Tom Brady -- the past few years with the New England Patriots. While his track record as an offensive coordinator in college isn't overly impressive, he was part of a Maryland staff that produced the nation's No. 28 offense in 2003. Georgia Tech finished 15th nationally in total offense in 2000, while O'Brien served as the team's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

If nothing else, O'Brien has seen what good offense and good quarterback play looks like. The Patriots rank second in the NFL in both total offense (428 ypg) and pass offense (317.8), and third in scoring (32.1 ppg).

That doesn't mean O'Brien's arrival automatically makes Penn State one of the Big Ten's top offenses in 2012. But if he hires the right staff and can develop players effectively, things will be looking up for the Lions attack. Penn State needs much more out of the quarterback position than it received this year, as Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden shared time and neither had much success.

Maybe O'Brien gets the most out of McGloin. Maybe O'Brien fosters the development not seen from Bolden. Maybe another quarterback emerges this fall under O'Brien's tutelage.

O'Brien clearly has more important things on his plate as he transitions into a job he's never held before.

But his presence in State College could be just what Penn State needs to upgrade the most important position on the field.

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