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Penn State Football’s Bill O’Brien: ‘We Got a Lot of Time’ for Christian Hackenberg

by on May 13, 2013 1:05 AM

You don’t shoot Kate Upton for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and then put her on page 117.

Same goes for Penn State’s incoming freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He was ESPN’s No. 1 high school quarterback last season. In the country.

So it’s a little hard to see him riding the bench behind the equivalent of Penn State’s safety school among juco prospects.

True, O’Brien’s mantra on the two-week Coaches Caravan was that Tyler Ferguson was “a little bit ahead” of Hackenberg. But that’s not even a backstretch lead. And, by the way, the top thoroughbred is just approaching the paddock area.

It is still a month before Hackenberg even hits campus. Yet his head coach, his offensive coordinator, his No. 1 champion and his personal recruiter for 14 months -- each of whom goes by the name of Bill O’Brien – all report that Hackenberg is already just a little behind in the running for the starting job. All four are in agreement, if you try to decipher Billiese: Hack can start. Soon.

And, here’s the kicker, from O’Brien himself last Thursday: There will be plenty of time for Hack to make his move in the summer practice quarterback derby. Penn State has 29 official practices between the end of July and its season opener on Aug. 31, plus “a million meetings,” to get Hackenberg ready to be its starting quarterback. (To say nothing of waiting ‘til Week 2 or 3 or 4 to give him the nod.)

In the words of O’Brien in DuBois last week, “We got time.”

Seven sentences later, just in case the 175 supporters in the small gymnasium on the Penn State DuBois campus missed it the first time, O’Brien said it again: “We’re not going to rush. We got a lot of time.”

If you read between the lines, O’Brien’s remarks were the most telling of all those made about his quarterbacks along the caravan trail, at least among the six stops I went to, as well as according to reports from and GoPSUSports.com videos of the other half-dozen stops.

A little ahead? That would seem to be a bit threadbare, given that Ferguson has been on the team for four months, had the experience of 14 official spring practices, ran with the first-team offense 50 percent of the time, played in the Blue-White Game, has been to countless position and offensive meetings, has had the playbook the entire year, was in the strength and conditioning program for nearly 150 days, and has a season of junior college football under his belt.

That, my friends in DuBois and elsewhere, is about as big of a head start that Ferguson could get. And yet, he’s only a little ahead.

And what does Ferguson have to show for it? He did beat out Steven Bench to stay in the running for the starting job. For now. But, as Ryan Snyder adroitly pointed out in Blue White Illustrated last week, heavily-recruited walk-on Jack Seymour has yet to hit campus. Seymour is the only walk-on, Snyder reported, who turned down D-I scholarship offers to come to Penn State on his own dime. Who knows, Seymour may be good enough to beat out Ferguson, a very last-second addition to Penn State’s roster.

Let’s talk in student-athlete terms. The QB situation is as if Ferguson had spent the spring semester taking 15 weeks and 45 classes of a three-credit calculus course, while Hackenberg was still in prep school. But after all that, Ferguson was only a little ahead in calc. Now, Hackenburg -- a star student on the playing field -- is coming to campus with a ton of credits for AP (advanced placement) football work he did at the prep level and in elite football camps.

That’s why, in DuBois on Thursday, O’Brien said…

“We got time. (Hackenberg) will be going to be here for the summer bridge program. The older guys in our program are going to help him. We’re going to be patient with him as coaches. I would say right now that Tyler Ferguson is a little bit ahead of him because he’s been there for a while. We have 29 practices and a million meetings. We have what I think is a very strong position there, two or three guys who throw the ball well. We’ll play the best guy. That’s what we’re going to do.”

It’s not like the Hackenberg has to know the entire playbook as constructed by O’Brien, the high priest of the Nittany Lions’ offense, the first day of camp. It’s unlikely Hackenberg will be hit with both testaments right out of the gate. The young quarterback will need to know the core elements of the offense – and with an abbreviated playbook already in hand, Hackenberg will. As O’Brien likes to call it, Penn State’s attack is a “game plan offense.” That is, it varies from week to week, based on the defense, with just select plays pulled and practiced for a particular game.

So, what’s the rush?

“We’re not going to rush. We got a lot of time,” O’Brien said. “We can get a lot accomplished in a two-hour meeting once training camp starts. You’d be amazed how fast these guys learn. We’re looking forward to that when we get started at the end of July sometime.”

That’s when official practice starts. Time may wait for no man. But then again, time has yet to meet Christian Hackenberg.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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