If Penn State fans voted on the team's starting quarterback this spring, Paul Jones would have won in a runaway.
Tired of seeing Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden struggle for a year and change, Nittany Nation overwhelmingly threw its support behind Jones, a physical specimen (6-3, 258 pounds) who hadn't seen the field earlier because of academic issues.
But fans don't pick starting quarterbacks. Coaches do. And new Penn State boss Bill O'Brien tabbed McGloin as the starter June 1. Even though Bolden transferred to LSU this summer, Jones' future at quarterback became murkier when Steven Bench, an incoming freshman, drew even with him on the depth chart and then passed him into the No. 2 role. When McGloin left last Saturday's game with an injury, O'Brien summoned Bench, not Jones, to relieve him.
Although Jones hasn't done enough to impress O'Brien at quarterback, the coach isn't turning his back on the redshirt sophomore. Jones is practicing with the tight ends and should see field time at the "F" position Saturday against Navy.
"Paul has a package of plays there," O'Brien said. "He'll play the F tight-end this week."
The F position is more of a pass-catching tight end than an in-line blocker. O'Brien, who featured the tight end spot in his previous role with the New England Patriots, lists six tight ends on this week's depth chart (page 13), both at the Y and F positions (Jones only appears as the No. 3 quarterback).
Jones gives McGloin another big target to throw to, and he can also line up in the backfield, O'Brien said. Jones began practicing at the F position Monday.
"Paul and I ... have a really good relationship," O'Brien said. "He's a fantastic kid. He's a guy that really has enjoyed being here. He's turned the corner academically. So he just wants to help the team, and he wants to play. After talking with him a few times, this is something he's all for."
Jones continues to sit in the quarterback meetings, where he learns the F position from O'Brien. He still has a package of plays at quarterback that Penn State could use in an emergency.
But with McGloin in place, Bench behind him and heralded recruit Christian Hackenberg arriving next year, Jones' future at Penn State doesn't appear to be as a signal caller.
"Paul Jones is, to me, a big, good athlete that deserves to play and he's not really going to play that much at quarterback," O'Brien said. "So why not find him a place on the field other than quarterback to play? That's what we're trying to do."