With one week left of spring practices, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is taking it slow when it comes to determining which quarterback he will have run the offense in the fall. Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson have seen approximately equal time under center so far this spring and their Blue White game performances could go a long way to determining a leader in the hunt. The summer arrival of the highly rated Christian Hackenberg will present another option for consideration if he can pick up the offense quickly enough.
"I don't think it's easy for any of the quarterbacks to pick it up (the offense)," O'Brien said while discussing his team on a Big Ten spring conference call Thursday. "Just the offense itself, it's not the easiest offense in the world to pick up. It's a language and we have to do a fantastic job of teaching it well and making sure that our players, especially the quarterbacks, understand the emphasis of each play and the concept that we're trying to get done."
O'Brien had an easier time deciding on a quarterback in his first year on the job. Matt McGloin had taken on the offense with great enthusiasm and emerged as the clear choice to handle the offense under O'Brien. Shortly after the end of the spring in 2012 McGloin had been tabbed the starter heading in to the fall, and the transfers of Rob Bolden (LSU) and Paul Jones (Robert Morris) hurt the depth on the roster. Bench arrived with the Class of 2012 and has one year learning O'Brien's offense up close is under his belt, and he could become the favorite to lead Penn State's offense in week one when Penn State takes on Syracuse in MetLife Stadium.
A lack of playing experience at the major college level for all three likely candidates for the job though leaves O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher needing to exhibit a sense of patience this offseason.
"I think everybody here has been patient," O'Brien said. "The word patience is a very important word here, especially as it relates to me. Coming from pro football, I definitely have to learn more patience with all these young players. I think I have, but I can even do a better job of being more patient with them. These guys are 18-19 years old and we've got to let them grow and get better and that's what we're trying to do."
Fortunately for O'Brien, there is still time to allow for some growth before the games matter in the fall. Penn State has one more week of spring practices, concluding with next week's Blue White Game in Beaver Stadium. Then, over the summer, Hackenberg will join the team and finally get a chance to practice with his new teammates and develop under the coaching of O'Brien and Fisher. In the meantime, Bench and Ferguson will be doing the same and hoping to improve enough to make a solid impression before the end of the spring schedule.
"I think they've both had their good moments and their bad moments," O'Brien said of Bench and Ferguson. "I definitely think there's enough time. Any time you have practices left there's always enough time for one guy to separate himself. We'll see what happens over the next few practices here."
It is not O'Brien's style to stack one guy against another at this point in time though. At least, he says it is not his style. For O'Brien, right now the coach just wants to focus on what his quarterbacks can do to improve with practices winding down.
"I don't really like to get into all the compare and contrast," O'Brien said. "I think they both do some things well and there's some things that both of them need to improve upon."
Quotes provided by email from Penn State Athletics.