Penn State’s James Franklin is savvy enough to know when something he’s saying is coming across as coach-speak. And he’s honest enough to admit there are times when he engages in coach-speak — or describing a situation to the media as something other than it actually is to gain an edge on an opponent or send a message in his own locker room.
So when he met members of the PSU beat for an impromptu press conference recently, Franklin went out of his way to say a key position race for the Nittany Lions is closer than most seem to believe. And…
“This isn’t coach-speak,” he said. “This isn’t (something) I’m trying to do to you guys or our opponent, which I do at times … with the opponent or with our own locker room.”
He was talking, of course, about Penn State’s quarterback battle, where redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens entered the spring vying for the spot left vacant by Christian Hackenberg’s early entry into the NFL Draft.
Following the Blue-White Game, well, it sure seemed as if McSorley had delivered a knockout blow. Playing the vast majority of first-team snaps, he hit on 23 of 27 passes for 281 yards and four TDs.
Stevens spent most of the day with the second team — he only received one first-team series — and finished 10 of 17 for 100 yards and no TDs.
“I know what happens here,” Franklin said. “You guys saw a small glimpse of the quarterback situation, and you saw a lot of it on one day, but you saw one day.
“What we did as coaches, and the players did (too), we were able to see those two quarterbacks for 15 practices as well as offseason workouts and everything else,” he added. “And we were able to see those quarterbacks, 15 days, on a level playing field. You guys did not get a chance to witness a level playing field. You saw the (No. 1) offense going against the (No. 2) defense, and the (No.2) offense going against the (No. 1) defense. To sit there and try to say, based on the spring game, it’s obvious that this guy is the starter and this guy is not even close, that’s not fair.”
If fairness is going to be part of the discussion, there are two points worth noting:
• If Franklin and the staff were worried about the perception of McSorley being the clear-cut No. 1 when preseason practice starts Aug. 4, they should have given Stevens more first-team reps in the Blue-White Game. Franklin explained that away by saying he intended to get Stevens two (count 'em) series, but a successful late drive by the second-team offense under the direction of walk-on QB Billy Fessler chewed up more clock than the staff expected.
• While the media clearly did not see nearly as much spring practice as the coaches and players, it was on hand for more than just the Blue-White Game. And in the 20 or so minutes per week that were open to the press, nothing seemed much different at the QB position than what everyone witnessed in the Blue-White Game.
Also, when he was describing the QB situation recently, Franklin admitted McSorley was clearly ahead. And he should be. Even while redshirting as a true freshman in 2014, McSorley received second-team reps behind Hackenberg.
“If anything had happened to Hack, we would have pulled his redshirt and played him,” Franklin said.
McSorley has spent two seasons as the backup. Stevens has spent one season (his redshirt last year) as the third-teamer.
“(McSorley’s) been training to be the backup quarterback for two years,” Franklin said. “So is there a gap right now? Yeah, there is a gap. But now, with Tommy having the chance, with the same opportunities over spring ball, I want to give him that opportunity (in camp).
“So I want to give those guys a legitimate chance during camp to compete for the job,” he added. “I do think there’s a gap with Trace right now, from my last evaluation, which was basically spring.”
What kind of timetable is there for officially announcing a starter?
“We’ll probably go a couple of weeks into camp,” Franklin said. “If after the first week of camp, it is just completely obvious to everybody, that’s fine. But it’ll probably go a couple of weeks into camp, and let them compete and see.
“If you have a returning starter who has a tremendous gap between the backup, well, that’s a different thing,” he added. “You come out and make it obvious to everybody. But we don’t have that.”
And one more thing.
“That’s not coach-speak.”