Hackenberg, Ferguson in race for quarterback at Penn State

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CHICAGO -- For now, fans wanting to learn the resolution of the Penn State quarterback situation might want to mark Aug. 16 on the calendar -- possibly Aug. 17 or 19, somewhere around then.

That's the midpoint of Penn State's fall preseason practice schedule and that's when coach Bill O'Brien said he would like to name a starter, either freshman Christian Hackenberg or sophomore junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, which would end a conversation that, in O'Brien's words, has gone on "ad nauseam." Until then, expect the discussion to continue and expect none of that discussion to come from Ferguson or Hackenberg. As newcomers, neither of them will be allowed to speak to the media, probably for most of this season.

Since spring, O'Brien has said he plans to go with one guy rather than trying a multiple quarterback system. When sophomore Steven Bench chose to transfer to South Florida, Ferguson and Hackenberg became the options. He said Ferguson might have had the slight advantage because he has participated in spring practice.

But that advantage could be fading. Ferguson is no longer in State College. For the past few weeks he has been at home in California. O'Brien said Ferguson is there to spend time with his mother who is ill with cancer, a decision, O'Brien said, that hasn't damaged Ferguson's chances to be the starter.

"To me, again, he'll come in," O'Brien said this week at Big Ten Conference media days. "He'll be here for training camp. What time, what day, all those things, I mean, I don't know. I am sure he'll be in the first team meeting and he'll be ready to compete with Christian for that job."

Hackenberg has been participating in 7-on-7 drills since starting summer school at Penn State in June. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said he has been impressed with Hackenberg's arm strength. Safety Malcolm Willis has seen Hackenberg and Ferguson both throw the ball accurately.

"We try to trick them a lot, with different coverage, try to come from different places, get different looks at them, and they've both responded," Willis said. "That's just a testament to their work ethic and their ability to learn on the fly."

O'Brien said he's looking for a quarterback who not only performs well in drills and looks best on film but someone who understands the X's and O's. Part of the reason he chose Matt McGloin as his starter in 2012 was his expertise in the meeting room and ability to master the playbook.

And he wants to discover who the right fit is in another few weeks. As much as O'Brien complains about the incessant questions about the quarterback situation, he's looking forward to practicing with them.

"One thing that's really exciting about working with young quarterbacks is that you get a chance to really mold that quarterback," O'Brien said. "You get a chance to really teach that quarterback."


Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published July 26, 2013 4:00 AM


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