QB Tyler Ferguson has looked sharp as preseason practices have progressed. His is clearly ahead on the QB race right now. He's nailing down the playbook and making better and better reads, an observer said. He's shown a good control of the huddle and has been calmer under pressure than he showed in spring drills. His release has been strong, particularly on intermediate passes, and he's shown good versatility hitting different receivers.
Physically, QB Christian Hackenberg is ready to contribute. But he's playing catch-up (to Ferguson) on the playbook and there's little sign that Bill O'Brien is scaling it back for him. In fact, most observers believe O'Brien is hitting Hackenberg with more than most true freshmen could handle, because he realizes how important he can be to this team. He's running the same sets as Tyler, an observer said. They are throwing a ton at him. Hackenberg has had his nose in the playbook and has been taking in extra film to try to get up to speed. Fundamentally, he's tossing well when he makes the correct read. But has to get more consistent to cut down on things blowing up on misreads. This is considered par for the course for a true freshman.
The offensive line has played well in drills from where it left off in the spring sessions. Donovan Smith and Adam Gress have been taking the bulk of starting tackle reps as left and right respectively. From there Garry Gilliam and Eric Shrive have been seeing backup work. Freshman Andrew Nelson has been impressive with his footwork and ability to direct assignments. Mac [McWhorter, the O-line coach] really likes what Andrew can do off the snap. He's making a run at the two-deep.
The interior of the line has see Mile Dieffenbach at left guard, Ty Howle at center and John Urschel at right guard. The inside group still has some issues to work out on coming off the blocks together, but they have done well handling the surge collectively. One backup that has looked good is Angelo Mangiro, who has seen reps at center and guard spots.
The backfield remains both a strength and a liability to the staff. The strength is in the talent among Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Zach Zwinak. The liabilities are a lack of depth and the lack of a proven commodity at fullback. With Zwinak somewhat limited to protect the wrist he injured in the spring, Lynch has stood out so far. He has had several highlight-reel type plays. As importantly, he has significantly improved his blocking. Belton is playing with more confidence. He has a burst, but just has to find the seam.
We have to be careful not to reveal any specific plays that are being worked on, but the staff is being extremely creative with the wideouts. Versatile players like Allen Robinson, Alex Kenney, Eugene Lewis and Richy Anderson are being moved all over the field. Think sort passes and even running plays.
With Brent Wilkerson's status uncertain due to a back injury, true freshman Adam Breneman has become that much more important in the tight end rotation. As such, position coach John Strollo has been on him, especially when it comes to the fundamentals of blocking. Breneman is an excellent receiving tight end, and is fast and strong. He just as to get a bit more dialed in on the blocking end of things.