He stepped on to the field at Beaver Stadium for the first time two years ago, and he seized the opportunity as best he could. On Saturday, Paul Jones will once again look to be the best quarterback on the field.
Penn State's annual Blue-White Game takes place Saturday afternoon, and if Jones can come away having the most productive afternoon under center, as he did in 2010, a solid case to be considered the leading candidate to be Penn State's starting quarterback in 2012 may be made.
Jones enrolled early at Penn State in 2010, which allowed him to get a jump start on getting adjusted to college and participate in the spring game. It did not take long for Jones to have an impact on the game. Jones entered the game with under five minutes remaining in the first half, taking over for Kevin Newsome, who was presumed to be the heir apparent to outgoing Daryll Clark, a two-year starter for the Nittany Lions.
The first play Jones saw resulted in a seven-yard completion to receiver Derek Moye. The freshman was later sacked for a 14-yard loss and threw an incomplete pass to stall on his first drive, but the second possession Jones led the charge, he quickly connected with Shawney Kersey for an 18-yard touchdown pass following a turnover.
Jones had just thrown the first touchdown pass of the game, and the speculation about his future quickly escalated for the highly-touted quarterback recruit. A second touchdown pass in the fourth quarter put everyone watching on notice. Jones ended his first spring game completing five of eight pass attempts for two touchdowns and 67 yards, second only to Matt McGloin's 110 yards while splitting time on both teams.
Despite the solid performance, Joe Paterno decided to give Jones a redshirt 2010 season, while another incoming freshman, Rob Bolden, started the season for Penn State. Jones was thought to be saved for an extra year of eligibility down the line. The 2010 season saw plenty of ups and downs with quarterback play between Bolden and McGloin, and that disturbing trend continued in to 2011.
Last year, Jones did not have much of an opportunity to show anything in the spring game, which was called moments after the second half got underway in a downpour. Jones had thrown one pass attempt in weather that would be unfair to properly judge anyone's performance. Spring game or no spring game, Jones' season was over before it started last fall when he was ruled academically ineligible for the Nittany Lions, forcing the team to once again start with Bolden and end with McGloin.
Now, once again eligible and in good standing, Jones should be one of the players worth keeping close tabs on in the Blue-White Game. Bill O'Brien has given everyone a clean slate for the quarterback job, and to this point, the new head coach has seen no reason to place Jones, Bolden or McGloin ahead of one another.
O'Brien would prefer to trim the competition down to two players heading in to the summer, which means the pressure will be on Saturday to have a decent outing that stands out. If history is any sort of indication, this will be the time for Jones to show he is capable and best suited to be the starting quarterback for this team in 2012. But questions remain.
Is Jones best suited to run O'Brien's offense?
Will Jones, with no playing experience, be able to handle the job when players start going after him?
Can Jones convert on red-zone opportunities, a crutch for Bolden and McGloin at times over the past two years?
Does Jones have the best touch and accuracy among the leading candidates?
With any luck, fans will start to see some of the answers to these questions and more on Saturday.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.