Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Preparing to Play with 64 Players on Active Roster
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien met with the media Tuesday morning in Reading Pa., the first stop on Penn State's coaches caravan tour. Speaking for the first time since the Blue White game and the departure of sophomore quarterback Steven Bench there was plenty of new ground for O'Brien to cover.
"One of the things I try to do here is twice a year after the season and after spring practice, I bring in every player on the team," O'Brien said. "Scholarship player or non-scholarship player and I spend anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes with each guy. What I try and do there is talk about a lot of different things, academics, social issues, family issues, you know these guys are young guys and they're going through a lot of things. And then I evaluate their play and try and give them an indication of what their role is in the future, what their role is on the team."
Only a few days earlier sophomore quarterback Steven Bench announced his intention to transfer. Bench finished spring practice in a neck-and-neck race with junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson. Both quarterbacks went 9-of-15 passing for just under 100 yards in the annual Blue White game. Incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg will join the Nittany Lions this summer.
"And that's what I did with Steven," O'Brien said. "I thought that he got better throughout the spring, and I have nothing but great things to say about him, and I felt that he still had room to get better and would still get reps here. No starter has been named, but I told him that going in that he may not get as many reps as some of the other guys but you're still going to get reps."
"Given the situation that we're in, an open transfer situation, that guys can still transfer until August 1 of 2013, he had a well-thought out conversation with his family and he felt like it was in his best interest to try and go play somewhere where he felt like he had a better chance at being a starter."
"I respect him, I've talked to other coaches for him, I wish he stayed because I think he's a great teammate and a great kid. I wish him the best."
Per the NCAA, Penn State players are able to leave the program without sitting out a year until training camp this summer. Normally, transfers in most situations require that a student-athlete sit out a year before becoming eligible to compete at their new school.
Ferguson slightly ahead in Quarterback race:
O'Brien has long alluded to narrowing down the quarterback race to only two athletes, and with Bench out of the picture it leaves only junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. O'Brien puts Ferguson a little ahead in that race even if it's only a technicality.
"You would say the job is between two guys," O'Brien said. "And you would say that since Tyler has been here since January that he's a little bit ahead, but only because he has been through 15 spring practices and countless meetings. So going into the summertime, I believe the freshman report June 22, they're able to workout and work with the strength staff on their own and things like that. I'm sure Christian will jump in then."
During the spring both Bench and Ferguson took part in an almost identical number reps, and while O'Brien does have a slight leader in his mind, that equal distribution will probably stay the same early in the summer.
"I would say that they would both get equal reps in the summer," O'Brien said. "If you pinned me down on that I'd probably say that Tyler would get a few more reps than Christian but I would say for the most part statistically they will get equal reps."
O'Brien later indicated that Hackenberg has received some team literature -- allowed following signing a letter of intent -- but his understanding of the offense is still "limited".
"He's a very bright kid." O'Brien added.
With an open transfer situation still a part of everyday life for O'Brien there was at least one unexpected change to be announced.
"I would say that Anthony Stanko has decided to leave the football team," O'Brien said of the sophomore guard. "He has decided to stay at Penn State on scholarship which is his right to do. So as we sit here right now today Stanko and Bench are the only changes."
Moving forward Penn State expects to enter the 2013 season below the 65 scholarship limit that the NCAA imposed starting during the 2014-15 season until the end of the 2017-18 season. 85 scholarships is the regular limit allowed by the NCAA.
"We will play this year with probably 67 scholarships players," O'Brien said. "And really we have three guys on campus that have decided to stay on scholarship but not play on the football team so really it's 64 scholarships."
Zach Zwinak Hurt:
Suffering from a wrist injury during the Blue White game, O'Brien updated his status and when he expects the junior back to make a return to the field.
"Zwinak hurt his wrist," O'Brien said. "He will probably be ready for training camp but I think it might be a non-contact situation. He has a wrist injury but it's not life threatening. He should be ready to go by halfway through training camp."
O'Brien will be joined by various Penn State coaches for 11 more stops on the coaches caravan tour which spans two weeks and will travel to four different states.