Spring practice is underway at Penn State, and position battles are in full swing.
At quarterback, returner Steven Bench and JUCO newcomer Tyler Ferguson are both competing for the starting job.
All of this is going on in Happy Valley as top quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg is still attending classes at Fork Union Military Academy.
There has been speculation that Hackenberg should forgo his first year at Penn State and redshirt to become eligible to play for a bowl and get a better grasp on the Bill O’Brien offense.
I’m here to tell you that Hackenberg should not redshirt in 2013.
Before diving into this, let's put the quarterback situation at Penn State into perspective.
There is returning backup Bench, who saw no more than 10 relevant snaps in 2012.
Tyler Ferguson enrolled at Penn State in January after playing his freshman season at College of the Sequoias (a junior college in California).
Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook are also true freshmen who enrolled in January.
Hackenberg is not on the spring roster and will join the team this summer.
Not exactly an experienced group or even a sure front-runner.
In fact, Bench is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, with his three rushing attempts and eight throws in two games last year.
With Bench and Ferguson competing for the starting spot this spring, O’Brien told Derek Levarse of the Sunday Dispatch that both players “want to be coached” and that they are “a really fun group to be around.”
But O’Brien also didn’t count Hackenberg out.
O’Brien told reporters, “Christian can’t do anything about the fact that he can’t be here until June. So yeah, Christian will come in and we’ll teach him the offense, give him some reps and we’ll see how he does, certainly.”
Now that we have the theory that Hackenberg’s late arrival will affect his chances theory put aside, let us delve into the real reasons he should not redshirt.
For starters, Hackenberg has the tools to win the job if he can learn the offense quick enough.
It is a big “if,” but the kid has the size, arm and maturity to handle the starting role.
Hackenberg will be throwing to Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter and possibly some freshman named Adam Breneman.
That’s the Big Ten Receiver of the Year, a Mackey Award list tight end and the top Y-tight end in the nation.
This means Hackenberg will have quite a group to throw to, and all have big-play abilities.
Protecting Hackenberg will be five returning linemen, including Donovan Smith, Ty Howle, John Urschel, Adam Gress and Miles Dieffenbach.
The Lions may have lost Matt Stankiewitch, but they signed the 12th-ranked guard in Brendon Mahon.
On the ground, Zach Zwinak rushed for 1,000 yards, and Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch are fighting for the second running back spot for 2013.
The supporting cast around Hackenberg will be very strong.
All of these factors puts the starting quarterback job as Hackenberg’s spot to lose.
The pressure will be on the young quarterback to learn the offense, but it’s a pressure he will need to get used to.
Hackenberg will be in the mix this summer and will need to learn the playbook.
Even if he doesn’t get the nod on August 31 at the Meadowlands, he can still win the job.
O’Brien said from the start that he will put the best football team that he can on the field.
The best team on the field for Penn State this year will feature Hackenberg under center, and not riding the pine with a redshirt.
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