NCF Nation: Paul Jones

Christian HackenbergAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg, the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, will start the opener at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Four months ago, Christian Hackenberg was kicking up sand near the dugout as part of the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy baseball team.

He was finding free time, between baseball and classwork, to break out flash cards and study the Penn State playbook -- names of plays and formations on one side and blank on the other, so he could scribble what they looked like. He'd catch himself daydreaming about running through that Beaver Stadium tunnel and launching touchdown passes behind a cheering crowd.

Now? All that studying, dreaming and summer training has culminated in what he's waited to achieve since Feb. 29, 2012, the day he committed to the Nittany Lions: According to sources, he is the starting quarterback at Penn State.

Hackenberg's father had initially weighed the value of a redshirt, but that was before the senior high school season of ESPN's top-rated passer. And a lot has changed in Happy Valley since then. Sophomore Steven Bench, who some expected to be a short-term Band-Aid, transferred to South Florida upon learning he wouldn't receive first-team reps in the preseason. Then juco quarterback Tyler Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts for personal reasons.

Ferguson still held the edge early in camp. But Hackenberg, perhaps the biggest-name quarterback to ever sign a Penn State letter of intent, quickly caught up and impressed the coaching staff. A week into camp, head coach Bill O'Brien said the race became "very even." Less than three weeks later, Hackenberg pulled ahead. He'll be the second PSU true freshman in the last 100 years to be the starting quarterback.

"Christian has come in here and really done a nice job," O'Brien said early on at camp. "He's attentive. He must be staying up late at night studying the playbook because he's come from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3 and improved. And he asks great questions in the meetings."

Hackenberg's strong arm dazzled onlookers at last year's Elite 11 and the Under Armour All-America Game, and the baby-faced quarterback already shows more ability to stretch the field than his predecessor, Matt McGloin. During part of an open practice two weeks ago, some reporters muttered "woah" when Hackenberg zipped a pass against his body to the opposite sideline -- right at the receiver's numbers.

Between his arm, accuracy and size -- he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds -- Hackenberg's potential and raw ability have never really come into question. Talent is oozing from the aw-shucks kid whose father attended high school in Pennsylvania.

Recruiting analysts, opposing players, college coaches and former quarterbacks have thrown almost as much praise Hackenberg's way as they did to O'Brien after an emotional, 8-4 first season. Said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer: "Christian is a kid you build a program around."

But potential and high accolades don't always translate to success -- at least not immediately. Former No. 1-rated QB Matt Stafford struggled as a freshman at Georgia and threw 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw seven scores to six interceptions. USC's Matt Barkley had a 15:14 ratio of TDs to interceptions in his first season. ESPN rated each the No. 1 quarterback in his respective class, and all are in the NFL.

So what does that mean for Hackenberg? That future greatness does not necessarily equate to immediate success. Opposing high school coaches have said Hackenberg struggled diagnosing disguised coverages, and the schemes and talent of Big Ten defenses will obviously lie in stark contrast to those Hackenberg saw in high school.

McGloin didn't have the strongest arm but he was a great decision-maker, throwing 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2012. Hackenberg is not expected to top those numbers this year, but he is expected to show promise.

The Nittany Lions have had their fair share of busts and underachieving quarterbacks over the years -- Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, Anthony Morelli and Kevin Newsome, to name a few -- but this Lions group also has something different nowadays, namely O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

O'Brien molded McGloin, a former walk-on, into a player the Big Ten blog thought deserved consideration for the Davey O'Brien Award. What can he do with the best true freshman quarterback prospect in the nation, one who turned down teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia?

We'll start to see at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

 
In a stunning bit of spring news, Penn State announced Wednesday that sophomore quarterback Steven Bench is transferring.

It's a shocking development since Bench was competing for the starting job and entered spring practice with the upper hand on the position as the Nittany Lions' only returning scholarship quarterback. No reason was given for Bench's decision.

Soon after the announcement, Bench tweeted: "I've decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential."

"I have been meeting with all the players this week with my evaluation of where they are at related to football and academics and to discuss what they need to work on this summer," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said in a statement released by the school. "After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere. We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him anyway we can."

O'Brien had said that Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson were even in the quarterback competition after spring practice concluded last week. Both players had similar stats in Penn State's spring game.

"I think both guys did some really good things," O'Brien said after the game. "I've said that all spring. I'd say, no, I'm not any closer as I sit here right now. Eventually, I'll have to make a decision.”

So what changed for Bench, who appeared in two games last year as Matt McGloin's backup? Was it clear to him that he'd fallen behind in the quarterback race? Or was he nudged out the door for some reason? (For what it's worth, Bench tweeted, "What did I do to deserve this?" earlier on Wednesday, though we've seen with college athletes and Twitter that it's often dangerous to read too much -- or anything -- into a single tweet.) A team spokesman said the move was not related to academics and was Bench's decision.

We'll wait for answers as to why Bench is leaving State College. For now, we know that Ferguson is the starting quarterback, and that the possibility of redshirting incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg has grown much slimmer. O'Brien might not have choice but to play Hackenberg right away, as the only other quarterbacks on the depth chart are walk-ons D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple. But it's going to be tough for any young quarterback to master O'Brien's system in such a short period of time.

Ferguson will be given every chance now to prove he can handle the job. Bench, meanwhile, will join Rob Bolden and Paul Jones as once-promising quarterbacks who have left Penn State in the past year.

UPDATE: It appears Bench decided to transfer after learning that Ferguson had won the job. While he told NittanyNation's Josh Moer that the decision wasn't totally based on falling to No. 2 on the depth chart, he also said the following about his meeting with O'Brien:

"It's out of my control, but I wasn't happy with it," he said. "I'm a competitor, so I'm not going to agree with that decision. But, at the same time, it's his decision and it's out of my control. I feel that it kind of left me no choice. I don't want to back anyone up. I want to play. I came here to play football."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

September, 28, 2012
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Some questions and answers before the weekend. Not surprisingly, a lot of you are weighing in on this story.

CK from Seattle writes: I'm going to call it right now Adam. B1G has a good bowl season (or at least better than recent years -- not saying much I know). Reason being the B1G teams seem to often play higher ranked teams and teams playing close to home. With our poor rankings this year, I imagine we'll have some more even matchups. That said -- Wisconsin has looked terrible, Michigan isn't impressive, MSU struggled against mediocre ND and Nebraska had a laugher in Cali. Verdict is still out on OSU. Well -- after saying that, I feel less confident, but still think we'll get better matchups this year.

Adam Rittenberg: CK, you very well could be correct. It's hard to envision the Big Ten keeping its streak of multiple BCS berths alive. Then again, I've thought the streak would end in the past, and it hasn't, as Big Ten teams and their massive fan bases remain so attractive to the big bowls. The matchups undoubtedly would be better and potentially more appropriate if the Big Ten only sends a team to the Rose Bowl. And if the Big Ten does well, I think the league will get credit because difficulty of bowl lineup doesn't seem to matter much with how leagues are perceived. That said, the Big Ten has to start winning Rose Bowls again. One victory in the past nine is pretty bad.




Dan from Austin, Texas, writes: As a proud PSU alum, it's tough to see the conference in this state. I agree with the premise you are attributing this to, however to understand why the talent pool is low, you have to understand what QBs in other markets are doing all year round. Look at how many Texas QBs are leading D1 programs around the country and starting in the NFL. The reason 7-on-7 leagues that were started about 10 years ago. You now have a generation of Texas QBs who have been able to have 2x to 3x more reps than QBs in the North.

Adam Rittenberg: I think 7-on-7 leagues are a factor, Dan, but spring football in the south might be a bigger one. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller told me that from a talent standpoint, the recruits he landed from Texas and other states weren't way above those from the Midwest. But the fact that the Midwest kids didn't have spring football in high school made them less prepared to play college ball right away. "The southern states are really getting the edge," Tiller told me. "Florida with their spring practices and Georgia with their spring practices and Texas with their spring practices, those kids, I know when we recruited them to Purdue, they were just advanced players over the guys we were getting out of the Midwest. They weren’t necessarily more gifted naturally, but they were just advanced in the sense that they played so much more football." Tiller also noted that some southern states (Texas) have longer regular seasons than those in the Midwest, so players are playing more games before they arrive at college.




Steve from San Francisco writes: I can't agree with Earle Bruce, and not just because I went to Michigan. I think the quarterbacks in the league are not the problem. Look at Alabama. Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron have led them to National Championships and they are not NFL caliber quarterbacks. Maybe they will be backups for a while, but they aren't carrying those teams, it is the top-down talent around them -- strong defenses, speedy, large, wide open receivers, and huge, yardage-churning running backs. Go back to UM-Bama to start the season, McCarron's and [Denard] Robinson's numbers were eerily similar, and how close was the final score? McCarron missed a bunch of receivers too, he just happened to also have 3 running backs tearing up the field. The question is: will the Big Ten ever be able to pull enough talent in all schools so that every class has the depth to match the SEC and I think the answer is no. I wanted to go to Michigan, but I grew up in the north. Most of the talent these days is in the south. Why would they ever go to a place that is frozen in the winter when they could be in the sun with girls in bikinis? Yes, you get your one-offs, but it is all positions talent and depth where the Big Ten has lost its prestige.

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Steve. Bruce also told me the running back position is down in the Big Ten, and while I don't necessarily agree with him there, the number of elite QB-RB combinations might not be as high as it should be. The wide receiver spot certainly has been down in the league, and I would also look at cornerback as a weakness in recent years. Everyone points to defensive line play and says that's where the SEC has the advantage, but I look at the linemen the Big Ten has produced in recent years -- J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan, Cameron Heyward, Jared Odrick etc. -- and don't see a massive shortage. Maybe there's not as much depth in the Big Ten as there is in the SEC, but I don't think there's a dearth at defensive line. Your last point is spot on. The issues go beyond just one position, and it's hard for the Big Ten to recruit overall rosters that can match the best teams from the SEC.




Brutus from the Ninth Circle writes: Hey Adam, have a question about Penn State. With the departure of Paul Jones, I'm beginning to think that there are 2 key things going on. First, [coach Bill] O'Brien knows that he has to get the scholarships down to a certain level and he has to "trim the fat," if that's the right phrase. Second, every team has under-performers, so they would be the first to go. It seems to me that BOB is cleaning house to get to the levels that he needs to be at, protecting the core players, and lightening the load with players that are less critical. Jones was the 3rd string quarterback and way down the list on TE. Seems like a good call to let Jones go. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Brutus, I don't think O'Brien is running players off from Penn State. I think he's being honest with them about their futures, and he didn't see a future for Jones at quarterback for the Lions. I believe O'Brien when he said he saw Jones as a contributor at tight end, but ultimately Jones wanted to play quarterback, as he tweeted Wednesday night, and he couldn't do that at Penn State. It's probably too soon to how Jones would have fared as a tight end for PSU, and there are quite a few players ahead of him at that spot. While I don't think O'Brien will lie awake at night thinking about how he could have kept Jones in State College, I don't think he's thrilled to see Jones leave. As O'Brien said Thursday night, Jones just needed a fresh start.




Dylan from Nebraska writes: Adam, Is there a Big 10 team that could, with some help, still contend for a national title? Would a 1-loss Nebraska, or Michigan St team make it? Would an undefeated Minny or Northwestern make it?

Adam Rittenberg: It's very hard to envision any Big Ten team taking the field in Miami on Jan. 7. The problem is the Big Ten didn't do much of anything in the first four weeks to justify having a 1-loss team make the title game ahead of comparable squads from other conferences. Between Minnesota and Northwestern, I'd say Northwestern would have the better chance because it has a slightly stronger strength of schedule than the Gophers do. And while I've been impressed at what both teams have done, there's little to believe either squad will run the table, especially in the tougher division (Legends). UCLA, which beat Nebraska, already has a home loss to Oregon State, pretty much eliminating the Huskers. Maybe if Notre Dame runs the table and so does Michigan State, there would be a slight, slight chance. But it's hard to see a national title game without featuring a team from the SEC, which has won the past six championships.




Jesse from Lansing writes: Adam -- Coach Kill seems to be a great fit for Minnesota right now. He doesn't reek of that used car salesman attitude (all talk-no walk) that [Tim] Brewster brought to the U. I am really enjoying his matter-of-fact, tough-love gotcha style and the fact that he's more focused on developing his players than the previous regime. Points also for the consistency brought on by his loyal coaching staff. Say Kill is able to build back this program in the next 3-4 years, what are the chances another BCS program lures away him away? I would like to think he's happy here and would stick around for a while. The U administration has been more than generous in providing him the resources he needs to get the job done as well as the time (7-year contract, I believe). Still, Bill Snyder can't stay at Kansas State forever, and being a native Kansan, that would be another opportunity for him to say retire close to home.

Adam Rittenberg: Jerry Kill might not have been Minnesota's first or second choice, but the guy looks like the right choice for a long-suffering Gophers program. He has definitely paid his dues in coaching at the lower rankings, and he doesn't take this opportunity for granted. That said, he obviously has ties to the Kansas area. Ideally, Kill would build up Minnesota's program enough so a move to Kansas State would be more lateral than an obvious step up. I don't get the sense he's a guy who wants to keep moving around every few years, but I doubt you're the only Gophers fan who made the connection to the K-State situation. Kill won't make any move until he feels like he has built up the program sufficiently, which likely is still a few more years away.




Nick from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Hi Adam. I am a die-hard, but very realistic Iowa Fan. Its probably taboo to make comparisons between the last 4 years of Hayden Fry's dismal career and where Kirk's career currently is. The reality is Hayden Fry recruiting significantly diminished after the Tavian Banks/Tim Dwight era which led to more losses. Ferentz had to completely rebuild Iowa. Over the last few years the talent, development has reduced with the losses increasing. Ferentz use to personally coach special teams and it showed. Since he stopped coaching them they have gone down hill ... quickly. I see him now more as a figure-head like Hayden Fry's last years. Do you see these comparisons as well? The angst is growing in Florida among the Iowa fans.

Adam Rittenberg: Nick, I can understand your frustration, and I doubt you're the only one making that comparison. While Iowa's program undoubtedly has lost momentum since 2009, I don't know if there has been a huge drop in talent. Iowa never was talented enough to overcome mistakes like running away from an onside kick or committing a dumb personal foul penalty in the closing seconds of a 2-point game. Most of Ferentz's teams have played smart, fundamentally sound football and often played above their collective talent level to win a lot of games. I don't think the 2012 Hawkeyes fit this description. It's fair to wonder if players are being developed as well as they used to in Iowa's program, but aside from a handful of recruiting classes (i.e. 2005), I haven't seen major differences in the types of players Iowa signs. I'm sure the facilities upgrades will help in recruiting, and I also think Ferentz has a lot left as a coach. But it's definitely a rough situation right now in Hawkeye Country.




Charlie from Ames, Iowa, writes: Adam, Just listened to your "Game of the Week" talk and noticed you said that Le'Veon Bell is the Big Ten's best running back. I think that's a little presumptuous to proclaim this early in the season. Based on a larger time scale (last year) and his performance in limited time this year, I'd still take Rex Burkhead. Now, I know what you're going to say. You're going to pull out the Brian Bennett card and base everything you think, do, and say on "body of work." But, this isn't directly about body of work, it's who you think is best based on all past performances and projected future performances. Although Bell will unquestionably, unless he gets hurt, finish the year with more yards than Burkhead, don't you think Burkhead deserves just as much mention for the Big Ten's best running back?

Adam Rittenberg: Charlie, my comment pertained strictly to this season. No one would argue -- aside from a few Northwestern fans -- that Bell has been the Big Ten's best running back this season. We've barely seen Burkhead, and he could turn out to be the league's top back, but he hasn't been to date this season because of the knee injury. Burkhead's overall career has been more impressive than Bell's, but I think Bell has closed the gap -- more because of what he has done lately, not because of any shortcomings with Rex's game. I will say this: Le'Veon Bell projects better to the NFL than any back in the Big Ten, including Burkhead and Montee Ball. If he keeps this up, he could be a potential first-round pick in next year's draft if he chooses to forgo his senior season.




Dave from Denver writes: Does Schlabach get paid by the SEC too?

Adam Rittenberg: Only in joy.

3-point stance: Osborne measured up

September, 27, 2012
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1. Tom Osborne had a tough standard to live up to as Nebraska athletic director -- the one he set as the Huskers football coach for 25 years. Not only did Osborne stabilize a football program that had gone shaky under his predecessor, but he shepherded the university from the internecine battles of the Big 12 to the safe and financially secure harbor of the Big Ten. You’d have to say that when Osborne retires in January, he will have met that tough standard.

2. In the first week of the season, Penn State quarterback Paul Jones volunteered to head coach Bill O’Brien to take snaps at tight end and fullback. Jones said it in a joking fashion, but O’Brien didn’t want to hear that from a second-team quarterback who still didn’t have a good grasp of the offense. In fact, O’Brien said that week that if starter Matt McGloin couldn’t play, freshman Steven Bench would go into the game. Jones did move to tight end, and now he’s leaving. Attrition with a new coach is not abnormal. O’Brien’s problem is that the NCAA sanctions won’t allow him to refill the roster.

3. So now Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is a nerd, as Dawgs wide receiver Tavarres King told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. King meant it as a compliment to Murray’s knowledge. I made the same point last month about Stanford junior Josh Nunes, who won the starting job because head coach David Shaw trusted the offense in Nunes’ hands. Given the split-second reads that quarterbacks make when they break the huddle, not to mention when they take the snap, a big arm these days had better be connected to a big brain.

Paul Jones leaves Penn State program

September, 26, 2012
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video Rob Bolden and Paul Jones both arrived at Penn State as heralded quarterback recruits with great expectations. It looks like neither man will fulfill them in State College.

Two months after Bolden bolted State College for LSU, Jones has left the Penn State program for personal reasons, coach Bill O'Brien confirmed Wednesday. O'Brien recently had Jones start practicing more as a reserve tight end, noting that his future at Penn State didn't appear to be at the quarterback position. Although O'Brien kept a package of plays for Jones at quarterback, true freshman Steven Bench passed Jones for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

"Paul and I ... have a really good relationship," O'Brien said two weeks ago. "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."

Many Penn State fans clamored for Jones to win the starting quarterback this spring, when he competed alongside Bolden and Matt McGloin. O'Brien eventually went with McGloin, a decision that has worked out well so far. Academics had kept Jones sidelined the past two seasons, when McGloin and Bolden shared quarterback duties. Although Jones clearly has talent, he didn't seem to grasp O'Brien's system as fast as many had hoped.

Jones is the latest player to depart Penn State's program, as receiver Shawney Kersey also left recently for personal reasons. Jones had one reception and one rushing attempt this season.
1. Perhaps Oregon State’s 10-7 upset of No. 13 Wisconsin will quiet the media speculation regarding the warmth of Beavers coach Mike Riley’s seat. Riley is homegrown. He played at Corvallis High. His dad, Bud, who died recently, coached at Oregon State. Riley loves the school and knows how to sell it. Few coaches have succeeded at Oregon State, and Riley not only has won (73-63), he has stuck around. When you talk about coaches who fit, you start with Riley.

2. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel of Kerrville, Tex., played a turnover-free game and gained 233 yards of total offense in Texas A&M’s 20-17 loss to Florida. Aggie quarterback coach Kliff Kingsbury (another Texas product) believes the intensity of Texas high school football gets quarterbacks ready quickly. “To be ‘The Man’ at a high school in Texas is a big responsibility,” Kingsbury said, “so once you get here, it’s a lot of the same feeling, just on a larger scale.”

3. Speaking of freshman quarterbacks, when Penn State fifth-year senior Matt McGloin got banged up at Virginia, Nittany Lion coach Bill O’Brien inserted freshman Steven Bench into the game ahead of sophomore Paul Jones. Bench, a coach’s son from south Georgia, impressed the coaches with his knowledge of the offense. Jones has a package of plays that the coaches hope to expand as he gains comfort in the new scheme.
Rob Bolden's long, strange journey has led him to the Bayou.

Bolden, Penn State's opening-game starter at quarterback the past two seasons, will officially join LSU's fall camp Wednesday, according to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Bolden's exit has been in the works for a while. He asked to be released from his scholarship before the NCAA sanctions against Penn State's football program came down, a source tells ESPN. Bolden was removed from Penn State's official roster earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Christy/US PresswireRob Bolden reportedly asked to be released from his scholarship before Penn State was sanctioned.
The signal caller had an odd career at Penn State, to say the least. He claimed the starting job in preseason camp two summers ago and became the first true freshman quarterback to start the opener for Penn State in 100 years. He had mixed results in the first half of the 2010 season, but seemed to be improving before suffering a concussion in a win at Minnesota. Bolden recovered, but was bypassed by Matthew McGloin, a decision that didn't sit well with Bolden or his family. Bolden tried to transfer after the 2011 Outback Bowl, but then-coach Joe Paterno refused to grant him his release. He ended up remaining at Penn State and earned the starting nod for the 2011 season but struggled, eventually giving way to McGloin.

Bolden and McGloin competed for the starting job this spring alongside Paul Jones, but Bolden ended up third on the depth chart. He finishes his Penn State career having completed 165 of 328 passes for 2,045 yards with seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Bolden clearly has talent, but he couldn't find the consistency needed to lead a Big Ten offense. It'll be interesting to see how he fares at LSU, which had its own quarterback troubles last season.

While Penn State fans lament Silas Redd's departure to USC, they likely won't miss Bolden too much after his recent struggles. Still, he's another player to capitalize on the liberal transfer policy, joining Redd, tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State) and safety Tim Buckley (NC State). Linebacker Khairi Fortt could be the next to depart as he recently visited Cal, and offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki will transfer to Illinois, Washington or Arizona State.

McGloin and Jones enter the 2012 season as Penn State's top two quarterbacks.

Team bond galvanizes Penn State players

July, 31, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Paul Jones shook his head Tuesday morning as he recalled the immediate aftermath of the unprecedented sanctions levied against his Nittany Lions. He was confused, hurt, upset -- and undecided about a transfer.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback said he tried to keep busy that first week. When his mind wandered, he'd envision himself in another uniform -- such as Pitt, less than 10 miles from his McKees Rocks home. The same boy who proudly donned a Penn State jersey every Thursday during high school wasn't sure, not at first, whether he would switch schools.

"You kind of let your mind attack you," Jones said. "As a competitor, you'd think it would be nice for a bowl game or a conference championship. But I take the bond I have with my teammates over pretty much everything."

Jones stopped fielding calls from other coaches Friday, after 11 days of wrestling with the idea of suiting up for another team. He decided to remain with the blue and white shortly after listening to three of his teammates' impassioned speeches during the Big Ten's media days.

"If those guys can go through it, I can go through with it," he added. "I wouldn't turn my back on these guys because I know they wouldn't turn their back on me."

Jones' sentiment was echoed by most players Tuesday morning, following a 7 a.m. pep rally that attracted several thousand fans. Players constantly referred to team bonds and fan support as the main reasons for staying put.

Director of strength and conditioning Craig Fitzgerald went so far as to say this team would be "closer than any other team that ever played anywhere."

"They're going to look at each other 20 years from now and say, 'Goddamn, you remember me?' Yeah, we went through that. We helped keep Penn State strong," Fitzgerald said. "That's more important than just going to a damn bowl game."

Despite Tuesday's upbeat environment, several players acknowledged the team initially harbored some doubts after first hearing of the NCAA sanctions: 80 fewer scholarships over four years, a cap of 15 new scholarships each season for the next four years, a four-year bowl ban and a $60 million fine. Sophomore tailback Bill Belton admitted thoughts of transferring ran through most players' heads, and senior quarterback Matt McGloin said nearly everyone received at least one offer from another team.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State QB Matthew McGloin is among the players who pledged loyalty to the program in the wake of NCAA sanctions.
McGloin, a fifth-year senior, said the team stuck together because it didn't want to desert the university at its darkest time. He said transferring was never an option for him.

"That's not the type of person I am, that's not how I was brought up," McGloin said. "I'm going to stay here no matter what happens. I'm going to be true to the program and be loyal to the guys upstairs who are trying to get us prepared for the season. And, most importantly, I'm doing this for my family and the fans. They're going to stay loyal to us, so I'm going to stay loyal to them."

Only one player, walk-on backup safety Tim Buckley, has officially transferred from Penn State so far. Buckley is now on scholarship at N.C. State.

But key players, such as junior running back Silas Redd and linebacker Khairi Fortt, are still pursuing a possible transfer. Redd could announce his decision as early as today, and most players are expected to decide before Aug. 6, the first day of preseason practice.

Fitzgerald, who joined Penn State this year, said he only wants to see committed players when they open camp and hold a players' meeting.

"We want the warriors, that's what we want," he said. "After Aug. 6, we don't want the guys that are on the fence. If you're in, you're in. If you're out, you're out. So, on that meeting Aug. 6, I'm advising that just the warriors be at the meeting. That's all we want."

Bill O'Brien has done a good job winning over Penn State fans the past few months.

He could have scored a few more points with the base Friday by announcing Paul Jones as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback for the 2012 season. Jones is a fan favorite for two main reasons:

1. He looks like a talented player.

2. Penn State fans are tired of the other options.

While Jones could be the long-term answer for Penn State, the best thing he had going for him, like many backup quarterbacks, is that the men in front of him have struggled. Penn State fans had seen enough bad decisions and interceptions from Rob Bolden, and they didn't feel a whole lot better about Matthew McGloin. Jones, who has had academic issues the past two seasons, has yet to appear in a game, giving him an air of mystery that gets people excited about his potential.

McGloin's career numbers aren't overly inspiring: 10 starts, 243-for-448 passing (54.2 percent), 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. But unlike Jones, he has played a significant amount of football in the Big Ten. And, unlike Bolden, he has performed decently for stretches and not constantly hurt his team with mistakes.

O'Brien was ultimately left to choose between experience (McGloin) and potential (Jones). Factor in the complex, straight-from-the-NFL offense O'Brien intends to run this fall, and McGloin became the best option.

Rather than make a popular decision, O'Brien made a sensible one Friday in announcing McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the season. Jones will be the backup, while Bolden, the team's opening-day starter the past two seasons, slips to No. 3 on the depth chart. All three men competed for the job this spring.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien has indicated Matthew McGloin has the best grasp of his complex offense.
McGloin might not have All-Big Ten skills, but he's a smart guy who has been in the fire. He also doesn't lack confidence, and won't get down on himself if he struggles early. Jones could be a very effective quarterback down the line -- perhaps even this season if things go badly for McGloin -- but to trot him out there for the opener in this type of offense is asking for problems.

O'Brien cited McGloin's consistency during spring practice as a primary reason to give him the nod. I thought it was telling what O'Brien told me about his quarterbacks when I visited State College in April.
McGloin: "He's a bright guy who understands our offense right now. He's doing a decent job of operating the huddle and things like this."
Jones: "He's picking it up and shows flashes of being a really good quarterback. When guys ask good questions, which Paul does, Paul asks a lot of good questions, you understand that they are getting it, to a certain degree. They all have good questions."

Translation: McGloin gets it right now better than the others. Jones is taking the right steps toward that point, but he's not there yet. McGloin gives us the best chance to win.

McGloin should operate on a short leash, and O'Brien should try to get Jones in games early this fall. It's imperative that Jones gets opportunities, even if it's a trial-and-error situation.

As for Bolden, rumored to have left the team last month, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. O'Brien said Bolden will continue to work out with the team this summer. The coaches are excited about incoming quarterback recruit Steven Bench, and Penn State has a verbal commitment from standout recruit Christian Hackenberg for 2013. While Bolden gives Penn State another option at quarterback, you have to wonder whether he'd be better served at another position.

O'Brien also announced Friday that cornerback Curtis Drake is no longer with the program and won't return. The coach didn't specify a reason for Drake's departure. Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, was involved in a locker-room scuffle with McGloin in December that left McGloin concussed and unable to play in the TicketCity Bowl.
The rumor mill had been churning in high gear for the past several days that Penn State junior quarterback Rob Bolden would transfer.

But the Centre Daily Times reports that Bolden is staying with the Nittany Lions, quoting his high school position coach. Penn State officials also confirmed that Bolden was back on campus.

This, of course, is not the first time transfer rumors have swirled around Bolden. He seriously considered leaving after his freshman season, when he lost the starting job to Matt McGloin. Bolden started most of last season but rarely finished games and played less than McGloin, who took over the full-time starting job when Tom Bradley became interim head coach. Bolden did start the TicketCity Bowl for an injured McGloin but had a miserable day, completing just 7 of 26 passes and throwing three interceptions. For the season, he completed only 39.3 percent of his passes, tossing just two touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Bolden competed with McGloin and Paul Jones for the No. 1 job this spring with new coach Bill O'Brien giving everyone a clean slate. But by most accounts, Bolden appeared to have finished behind the other two guys. He did himself no favors by throwing three interceptions in the Penn State spring game.

It looks like Bolden is willing to tough it out and try to fight for playing time. While admiring his perseverance, you have to wonder if that's the best move for his career. Bolden simply hasn't shown the ability to be a top-flight quarterback the past two years, and he may find himself buried on the depth chart when freshman Steven Bench arrives. Penn State also has a commitment from Class of 2013 star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Bolden may well be better off transferring to an FCS school where he could play right away, or even considering changing positions.

But maybe, just maybe, the light will go on for Bolden and he'll turn things around. Having him around certainly helps Penn State's depth at the position. And by staying put, Bolden is betting on himself.
May is a time when many coaches take a little breather, decompressing after spring practice and maybe enjoy some time off.

Not so for new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. When ESPN.com caught up to O'Brien on Wednesday for a phone interview, he was on a bus en route to Buffalo, N.Y., for the 18th and final stop on the Nittany Lions' coaches caravan. O'Brien went to every event, a three-week whirlwind that saw him visit seven different states, including stops in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., New York City, Richmond, Va., and Hartford, Conn.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicCoach Bill O'Brien has worked tirelessly to build a strong relationship with the Penn State fan base.
O'Brien really hasn't had much down time in a while, as he headed straight to State College after coaching the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in February. But he didn't sound much worse for the wear.

"I've got a lot of energy," he said. "I've been traveling with a great group of people, and the turnouts energize us."

O'Brien and other Penn State coaches were greeted by some large crowds, including more than 900 who came out to the event in Scranton, Pa. There has been a lot of curiosity about the man who's taking over for Joe Paterno, and that's a major reason why O'Brien decided to embark on the journey.

"Since I was hired, I felt like something I had to do after spring practice was get out there, meet people and talk about our vision for the program," he said. "Every stop, there have been 400-to-500 people, at least. So there's no question that it's a far-reaching program, and that's good because we're going to recruit in the six-to-seven hour driving distance area. So it's good to be able to get out into our recruiting areas, too."

The caravan, of course, had another purpose. After the ugly Jerry Sandusky scandal and controversy over Paterno's ouster, Penn State needed a goodwill tour to help the healing process along.

"I think it definitely helps," O'Brien said. "Like I've said, I wasn't here in November. My staff wasn't here. But we're well aware of what happened in November. So I definitely think it helps to get out and meet people and make sure people understand where we're headed."

Even with the controversy as a backdrop, most Penn State fans just wanted to talk about football. O'Brien was peppered with questions about the Nittany Lions' quarterback competition, whether he'll maintain the program's traditions and uniforms and scheduling.

"People can't wait to get going and for the season to start," O'Brien said. "I definitely sense of a lot of excitement."

But O'Brien and his staff have a lot of work to do before Sept. 1. One of the first orders of business is selecting a starting quarterback from the trio of Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones. O'Brien said he plans to name a starter in early June.

"One of the things I try to make clear to people is that the day after the Blue-White Game, the coaches left for recruiting," he said. "We haven't even had a chance as a staff to sit down and talk about spring practice, about depth charts at any position. So I want to have a chance to sit down with the staff when they get back at the end of May, and then we'll have something soon after that."

A report from the Cleveland caravan quoted quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher as saying McGloin was the leader in the race. Asked about that, O'Brien joked, "I'll have to talk to Charlie about that one," before emphasizing again that the staff has to meet to discuss the quarterback situation.

O'Brien and his coaches have begun their preparations for their first few opponents of 2012. He said the team "got a lot done" in the spring but still needs to have a big summer and training camp.

"I think our kids know the tempo we want to practice with," he said. "We have a better feel for the football team, that's for sure. Our kids have started to grasp the terminology and other things."

O'Brien got a grasp on the Penn State fan base during the caravan tour, and vice versa. It might not have been as relaxing as some time off, but he saw it as a very valuable experience worth repeating in the future.

"We'll do something like this again," he said. "But I don't know if it will be 18 stops."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien isn't handling Penn State's quarterbacks with kid gloves. The three players vying for the starting job aren't spending much time in the shallow end this spring.

"We've thrown everything at them," O'Brien told ESPN. com on Monday.

While there have been expected growing pains, O'Brien saw encouraging signs in Friday's scrimmage.

"It wasn't perfect," he said. "We threw interceptions, we fumbled the ball, we've got a long way to go. But you can just tell certain things were clicking. That was pretty cool to see."

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State QB Matthew McGloin has earned praise from coach Bill O'Brien during spring workouts.
O'Brien is pleased with the performances of Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones through the first six spring practices. McGloin and Bolden have shared time as the starter the past two seasons, while Jones is very much in the mix after academic troubles sidelined him in 2010 and 2011.

O'Brien doesn't expect to name a starter before the end of the spring -- he'd like to make a decision 2-3 weeks before the season opener -- but he will reduce the pool from three to two in the next two weeks.

"One guy will have a decent day and the next day, a different guy will have a better day," O'Brien said. "But we give them a lot of reps, so they all have their chances."

Here's what O'Brien had to say about all three candidates:

McGloin: "He's a bright guy who understands our offense right now. He's doing a decent job of operating the huddle and things like this."

Bolden: "He's another bright guy who is doing a good job of understanding the offense. He's a guy that has a great many tools."

Jones: "He's picking it up and shows flashes of being a really good quarterback. When guys ask good questions, which Paul does, Paul asks a lot of good questions, you understand that they are getting it, to a certain degree. They all have good questions."

"It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out," O'Brien added.

Penn State fans shouldn't expect too many clues in the Blue-White Game -- "I'm certainly not going to show a whole lot in that game," O'Brien said with a smile -- but the situation is gradually taking shape.

While much of the attention is on the quarterbacks, O'Brien is especially excited about the men lining up in front of them. Penn State's offensive line, a group that has underachieved at times since the 2008 season, has stood out early in spring drills.

The Lions return only one starter up front in center Matt Stankiewitch.

"I've been pleasantly surprised with the offensive line," O'Brien said. "They play well together, they play hard, they're smart. It's not easy to play offensive line in this system. There's a lot of communication. I've been pleased with how they've played."
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said earlier Monday that he wouldn't comment more about quarterback Danny O'Brien's interest in the Nittany Lions.

He didn't need to. Pictures like this and this say it all.

O'Brien
That's O'Brien, the former Maryland quarterback, donning a Penn State jacket during the Nittany Lions' first spring workout on Monday afternoon. Danny O'Brien made his second visit to Penn State after spending some time in State College about a week ago. He visited Ole Miss late last week and spent the weekend at Wisconsin, calling his visit to Madison "unbelievable" in an interview with Scout.com (subscription required). Vanderbilt also reportedly is in the mix for O'Brien, who was granted his release to Vandy after media pressure built against Maryland coach Randy Edsall.

Vanderbilt looked like the favorite to land O'Brien, but he's back at Penn State, which could be a very good sign for a Nittany Lions team that could use another quarterback in the fold. O'Brien didn't say much Monday but told one reporter Penn State would be a great opportunity for him.

Bill O'Brien said Monday that Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones will compete for Penn State's starting quarterback spot this spring. But if Danny O'Brien enrolls at Penn State, he immediately would become the favorite to win the job. The big plus with Danny O'Brien is he has two years of eligibility remaining.

Exciting times for Nittany Nation ...
The Danny O'Brien tour is in full swing.

O'Brien, the former Maryland quarterback, reportedly visited Penn State during the weekend. After a midweek stop at Ole Miss, O'Brien will head to Wisconsin, according to The Badger Nation's Benjamin Worgull. Wisconsin also is in the mix for another quarterback transfer, former Kansas signal caller Jordan Webb, who is exploring Colorado as well.

It's no secret that both Penn State and Wisconsin could really, really use another quarterback. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten signal caller Russell Wilson and might not be able to count on the injury-plagued Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips. Penn State's quarterback situation has been messy the past two seasons, and while Matthew McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones all remain with the team, the Lions really could use a guy like O'Brien.

Both Big Ten schools face competition for O'Brien's services, particularly from SEC suitors Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, but they also offer exciting opportunities for the former ACC rookie of the year.

Let's take a look at the sales pitches Wisconsin and Penn State might make to O'Brien.

Wisconsin's pitch: Remember this guy? He made a seamless transition from an ACC program to Wisconsin, setting team and NCAA records in leading the Badgers to a second consecutive Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance. He flourished in a pro-style offense that will remain in place despite a coordinator change. You can be the next Russell Wilson, Danny. And like Russell, you'll step into an offense built to succeed. You might have heard of this guy. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, and he chose to return for his senior year. You won't share a backfield with a better running back than Montee Ball, Danny. You also won't play behind a better offensive line. Sure, we lose some All-Americans, but we did after the 2010 season and didn't take any steps back. Our offensive lines always are among the nation's elite. You'll also be working with a proven receiver in Jared Abbrederis and an excellent tight end in Jacob Pedersen. Still not convinced? You might have heard of the "Jump Around." It's pretty sweet. So is State Street. Come to Madison, Danny, and help Wisconsin defend its Big Ten championship.

Penn State's pitch: You might have heard of this guy. Sure, he's a Michigan guy, but our new head coach, Bill O'Brien, served as his offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots this past season and helped the Patriots to some record-setting performance. O'Brien knows quarterbacks, and he can help you take your game to the next level. Bill O'Brien can revolutionize the quarterback position at Penn State. You won't find better preparation for the NFL than two years in O'Brien's offense, which will test you mentally. Doesn't O'Brien coaching O'Brien have a nice ring to it? Plus, you'll share a backfield with one of the nation's most dynamic young running backs in Silas Redd. Receiver Justin Brown returns, and the tight end position should be significantly upgraded under O'Brien, who helped make Gronk a cult hero. You also can play before 106,000 people in one of the nation's best college towns. This is a historic time at Penn State, Danny. Be a part of the next chapter.
New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has finalized his staff with one of his most important hires.

O'Brien has tabbed Miami (Ohio) assistant Charlie Fisher to be Penn State's new quarterbacks coach. Although the team hasn't made an official announcement, O'Brien confirmed Fisher's hiring Friday to reporters.
"I've known him for a long time," O'Brien said. "[He's a] bright guy, sharp guy. He's had a lot of success and worked with some good quarterbacks. He worked with Jay Cutler at Vanderbilt and Zac Dysert last year. We're lucky to get him, and he'll start on Saturday."

Fisher spent just one season with Miami as the RedHawks' quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Miami ranked 14th nationally in pass offense (299.1 ypg) and 29th in pass efficiency (143.7 rating) last fall. Dysert ranked 14th nationally in total offense and 32nd in pass efficiency under Fisher's watch.

Fisher was one of few FBS assistants to coach two position groups. He spent the previous nine season at Vanderbilt, coaching wide receivers and running backs, and serving as the team's passing game coordinator. He also has served as Temple's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

O'Brien hired most of his staff weeks ago, and there were reports he would bring New England Patriots assistant George Godsey with him to State College to coach Penn State's quarterbacks. But Godsey is staying with the Pats.

Fisher has a major task ahead of him as he'll work with a quarterback group that has underperformed the past two seasons. Both Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden boast starting experience but need to upgrade their play significantly for the 2012 season. Paul Jones, a promising player who hasn't been a factor because of academics, also is in the mix.

Penn State ranked 96th nationally in pass offense and 112th in pass efficiency this past season.

O'Brien won't have an offensive coordinator on his staff, and he'll be heavily involved with the team's offensive play calls this season. But Fisher also figures to have an important role in the team's offensive game plan, and the fact he has coordinator experience is key.

Penn State also on Friday announced Tim Bream as its new head athletic trainer for football. Bream spent the past 19 seasons in the Chicago Bears organization.

Here's Penn State's complete coaching staff for 2012:
  • Bill O'Brien, head coach
  • Stan Hixon, assistant head coach/wide receivers
  • Ted Roof, defensive coordinator
  • John Butler, secondary
  • Charlie Fisher, quarterbacks
  • Larry Johnson, defensive line
  • Charles London, running backs
  • Mac McWhorter , offensive line
  • John Strollo, tight ends
  • Ron Vanderlinden, linebackers

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