AP NEWS

Focus Back On Quarterbacks In Blue-White Game

April 13, 2019

This is not a competition that ends today. It doesn’t even start today. Tommy Stevens wants that much to be known before the first snap of today’s Blue-White Game, which kicks off at 3 p.m. at Beaver Stadium, and he knows it’s important fans listen to him. Because, he isn’t going to be on the field to show them what he has to say. After an injury-riddled 2018 season cost him his chance to salt away the starting quarterback position once destined to be his, the senior knows he’s not going to be taking a snap in the annual spring scrimmage. He also knows that doesn’t ultimately matter much as he continues to heal from an unspecified offseason surgery. “There are no games in April,” Stevens said, matter-of-factly. “It’s all about being ready for the season.” For Sean Clifford, though, there’s a pretty big game in April. The sophomore who posted eye-catching numbers in Stevens’ stead as backup last season — 5 of 7 passing for 195 yards, two touchdowns and a 399.71 rating — has taken most of the first-team reps in practice this spring and will start today’s scrimmage, looking not to end any competition with Stevens this summer, but to send him into it with plenty of momentum. Redshirt Will Levis will get looks, of course. And both of Penn State’s true freshmen recruits who enrolled early, Ta’Quan Roberson and Michael Johnson, are likely to make their debuts. But head coach James Franklin said he looks forward to a new-look Clifford showing off in front of what could be a strong crowd on a seasonable spring afternoon. “The thing I’ve been impressed with him is how competitive he is,” Franklin said. “He’s highly, highly competitive, almost to the point when he first got here that he was hard to coach. ... But because of his competitiveness and how prideful he is, he went from a guy who most people would list as a true pro-style quarterback to one who I think is a guy who is a legitimate dual threat guy who can hurt you in many ways.” The quarterback competition at Penn State post-Trace McSorley always seemed destined to come down to a battle of styles. One, the versatile Stevens’ dynamic dual-threat style, a rocket arm on a body that could both break big runs because of his speed and gain the extra yard or two with his power. The other, the more traditional Clifford’s ability to make any throw from the pocket. But Clifford spent the spring looking to diversify his portfolio, working on making himself more of a threat in the running game, a bit more nimble in the pocket and someone who needs to be respected outside of it. “I’m not trying to be Mike Vick out here. That’s not my game. I know that,” Clifford laughed. “But I’m trying to add a different dynamic.” What that could give one of the deepest quarterback groups in the Big Ten remains to be seen. But even if the quarterback competition won’t be settled before August, one thing Franklin doesn’t seem worried about is the quarterbacks’ ability to replace McSorley’s vaunted leadership skills. He called the quarterback room one that is deep and supportive of each other, a rarity in today’s transfer-happy game. Clifford said the Nittany Lions will miss what McSorley did, but he had no qualms about what the new group of signal callers can offer this fall, regardless of who is under center. “The biggest thing with a big-name guy like Trace leaving is loving what he did here, but keep on moving,” Clifford said. “That’s what elite programs have to do.” Contact the writer: dcollins@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9125; @psubst on Twitter