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Penn State Football: Quarterback Room Still Crowded Following Stevens Departure

by on April 22, 2019 2:20 PM

The first thing anyone should really mention when discussing Tommy Stevens' transfer: it probably would have gone differently if he was healthy.

If he had been, Stevens would have played more this spring, and in fact even while unhealthy he entered the season as James Franklin's polite depth chart favorite. All things being equal Stevens could have effectively secured the starting role by now, even if it was not announced until sometime down the road.

Instead he left spring practice politely in the mix.

So Stevens finds himself roaming the transfer portal looking for a place to play out his final season. For most fans and onlookers this probably comes as a surprise after his first foray into a potential transfer last year. His departure seemed unlikely and questions about his future were focused on how he was going to play, not where.

But then his injury flared up again, and Stevens went through 2018-19 at less than 100%. The hard cuts were a thing of the past, the elusive runs were muted.

And even still he found his way onto the field against Iowa and Michigan never really playing as a quarterback but instead something akin to a competent placeholder as Trace McSorley was evaluated on the sideline. It was likely hard to feel as though this was finally your time, maybe even hear that Trace was done for the day, only to get pulled once again.

He will never say it, but that wasn't what he really wanted to be doing, even so, with his eyes still on 2019, it was better than nothing.

From 40,000 feet, Stevens' story is a good example of the diverging paths and main objectives of players and coaches. Stevens likely wanted some amount of assurance he was going to play and Franklin was unable or unwilling to do so. In the end Franklin doesn't owe Stevens loyalty in return for loyalty. Plenty of players stick with a program for five years and never play, that's loyalty too. Nearly leaving and then returning doesn't increase a players' value or his ability.

If nothing else it's not pragmatic to assume Stevens will be healthy or that Clifford will be bad. Nobody really knows how either quarterback will play when the bright lights on shining on them on a weekly basis. There was no reason to call the competition off before it really began.

From Franklin's perspective the best thing he can do is collect data for as long as he can before making the call, that probably holds true to every position battle, and counter to nearly every family of a player on the fringe. How much trust and faith Stevens or any given player has in that process and in Franklin is case by case.

For Penn State fans this is almost certainly a new normal to get used to. A quick glance at the Nittany Lions' quarterback room lends itself to a lot of youth and not a lot of openings. It's hard to imagine that life unfolding won't see some combination of them leave eventually.

The running back room this year is not much different but allows for more flexibility. In many ways if Penn State can get through the fall without playing Noah Cain more than his allotted four games, that is a good thing. Penn State wants to be in a place where players are waiting in the wings. It wants to be in a position to have starters not starting.

But good players waiting in the wings sometimes means good players are taking their careers somewhere else.

There's nothing wrong with that, but it might mean the recruiting never stops, even inside the Lasch Building.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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