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Penn State Football: Bill O’Brien’s Ten Commandments for His Starting Quarterback

by on May 03, 2012 10:05 PM

Bill O’Brien thinks he knows who his starting quarterback is.

He’s just not saying who.

“I’ve reviewed the spring practices myself and the Blue-White Game,” O’Brien said in Harrisburg on Wednesday during a stop on the school’s Coaches Caravan. “I have a pretty good idea about the quarterback situation.”

For now, Penn State’s first-year head coach won’t reveal whether his new starter is an old starter – i.e., Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden – or the newly-eligible Paul Jones.

But his quarterbacks coach, Charlie Fisher, may have spilled the beans on Thursday to Jon Gerardi of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, who tweeted: "Interviewed Penn State coach Charlie Fisher tonight, who said McGloin might have an edge over Bolden, Jones to start at QB."

Either way, we've heard enough from O'Brien over the past few months to know what the former New England Patriots quarterback coach is looking for in his No. 1 QB.

So here’s an idea of O’Brien’s 10 Commandments for his starting quarterback come Sept. 1 against Ohio University:

1. Run The Operation.

“The first thing the quarterback needs to do,” said Fisher, “is run the operation. That’s huddle command, that’s line of scrimmage command.”

2. Manage The Game.

“That means no turnovers, get first downs, move the ball,” senior quarterback Matt McGloin told ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel after the spring game.

3. Be Patient.

“Sometimes, a punt is not a bad thing,” said McGloin. “Sometimes, a field goal is not a bad thing. You don’t need to score every single down. Be consistent and don’t try to be do too much. 

Added Fisher: “When the quarterbacks play within themselves – and we talk about this everyday – they do what they can do, and try not to do more than that.”

4. Don’t Gamble.

“When you get a little wild and take too many chances, you’re going to get hurt,” said Fisher.

That’s a mentality O’Brien has brought from the NFL and New England, where he was the offensive coordinator. In 2011, the Patriots led the AFC in fewest turnovers – only 17 over the course of 16 regular-season games, with 12 interceptions and just five lost fumbles for an average of 1.06 per game.

Conversely, in 13 games in 2011, Penn State had 27 turnovers (14 picks, 13 lost fumbles), an average of 2.08 per game.

5. Have Pocket Presence.

“Having an understanding that the centers and guards set the pocket and that the tackles set the width of the pocket is very, very important for the quarterback to understand -- and young quarterbacks don't always get that,” O’Brien said. “And so we talk to them about hitting their back foot and climbing the pocket to respect the integrity of the pocket.”

A corollary to this is how that the QBs must consistently move their feet. Throughout spring drills, footwork among the quarterbacks was emphasized. Fisher started many practices with quick rollouts and three- and five-step drop and pops.

6. Have Presence.

“What’s really important is how our quarterbacks react to the big stage and how they handle the pressure of playing in front a big crowd,” Fisher said. “It’s important that we know what’s their demeanor, how they show up for practice, how they go about their business.”

7. Be Accurate.

O’Brien’s offense is predicated on completing high percentage passes. At New England, the Patriots strive to complete at least two-thirds of their passes (65.7 percent in 2011), utilizing a precision short- to middle- game that feeds the tight ends a great deal.

“That’s been an offensive philosophy that’s been really successful and that I truly believe in,” O’Brien said. “It puts a lot on the quarterback…”

And it showed in the Blue-White Game, as the top three Nittany Lion quarterbacks completed just 19 of 42 passes (45.2 percent), with five interceptions. In 2011, McGloin completed 54.1 percent of his passes, with five interceptions n 231 attempts. Bolden completed only 39.3 percent of his passes last season, with seven picks in 135 attempts.

8. Adjust To The Personnel.

“You mold the offense and the different skill sets that you have at that position (quarterback), definitely,” said O’Brien.

9. Audible. And in a Hurry.

“A big part of what the quarterback has to do is ID (the defense) and get into the best play possible,” Fisher said. “He has to be able to process information in a hurry. He has to see exactly what’s going on and get us to the best play possible.

“He has to process it quickly because if we break the huddle with 18 seconds, that’s what he’s got left to make his decisions and get us to the right play.” 

10. Win. And in a Hurry.

O’Brien last week told Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror that he won’t pick a starting quarterback based on remaining years of eligibility (Jones has three, Bolden two, McGloin one) or long-term potential.

“In two or three years down the road, if I’m sitting here at 2-20 or 2-30, I'm not going to be employed,” O'Brien told Giger. “So that’s a ridiculous notion.

“My job as the head football coach is to put the best team out there, the best lineup out there and try to win every single game that we go into.”

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” 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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