PHILADELPHIA — It probably only seemed like Penn State coach James Franklin was asked about quarterback Christian Hackenberg 14,000 times in the preseason.
Which was understandable. Hackenberg, a junior who some have projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, is THE most visible player in the program. And there are any number of storylines surrounding him, from whether this is his final year in Happy Valley (he’s not talking about it), to how he’ll bounce back from an off 2014 season (when his O-line struggled), to how a supposedly improved O-line and receiving corps will impact his game.
Flying waaaaaaaaay under the radar — as in, Franklin has only been asked about them on a couple of occasions — have been the backup QBs.
Redshirt freshman Trace McSorley is the clear-cut second-teamer, even though he’s never played a game snap at PSU. But he carved up the starting defense at times in practice last year and brings a different skill set to the table than the starter — McSorley can throw on the run and is an effective ball-carrier.
The only other scholarship QB on the roster is true freshman Tommy Stevens, who is slated for a redshirt (barring injury disaster at the position). Also taking QB reps in practice are walk-ons Bill Fessler and Jackson Erdmann.
But even having two scholarship passers active on game days will be a nice change for Franklin and his staff. Last year, McSorley was technically the second-teamer, and would have played had Hackenberg been seriously injured.
Through some miracle (considering he was sacked a school-record 44 times), Hackenberg took every significant snap at QB other than the occasional Wildcat play. Walk-on D.J. Crook (who has transferred) was the garbage-time quarterback, and since PSU was in so many tight games he only threw six passes, completing two.
“We’re getting back to a more traditional model, where we have a starting quarterback,” Franklin said. “We have a second-team quarterback who’s available and not redshirting. The you have a guy behind him who’s redshirting.”
Penn State opens the season vs. Temple at Lincoln Financial Field here Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN), and the Lions are favored by about a touchdown. So maybe it does not happen this week.
But at some point against what appears to be a less than intimidating early season schedule, Franklin is hoping to get his actual second-team QB — and deeper reserves at other positions — game experience.
“There’s no doubt we would love to get in a position that Penn State hasn’t been in in a long time,” Franklin said. “Hopefully we play some games where not only are we able to get the backup quarterback some reps, but some other players in our program some reps.”