Bill O’Brien revealed quite quickly at the season’s first game-week press conference that the mystery about his new starting quarterback would continue for another four days.
He didn’t even let someone ask if he’s finally named a starter between true freshman Christian Hackenberg and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson.
O’Brien gave notice during an opening statement Tuesday afternoon that the world won’t learn who his starter is until the first play Saturday against Syracuse at Met-Life Stadium.
“It’s no disrespect to that position or our fans. … I want to do what’s best for our players and what’s best for our football team.”
Reporters proceeded to ask about why the second-year head coach is handling the decision process this way. And O’Brien didn’t offer much.
He said at least part of his reasoning is to help protect and prepare Hackenberg and Ferguson better in light of their age and inexperience. Though Ferguson practiced with the Nittany Lions in the spring, neither QB has played in a Football Bowl Subdivision game yet.
O’Brien wouldn’t even confirm whether he and his assistants have chosen their man privately; or whether the rest of the team knows who the No. 1 choice is.
“Just to clarify, you’ll find out on the first snap on Saturday,” O’Brien said to yet another question on the matter.
O’Brien refused to compare and contrast them, though he did say they are two of the best young quarterbacks he’s ever been around and that both should be ready to play, especially in the season-opener.
Meanwhile, Syracuse has yet to name a starting quarterback, as well. It appears to be between Drew Allen, more of a pocket passer, and Terrel Hunt, a running threat.
O’Brien admitted that he must prepare for both styles, “but you can’t stay in the office until 4:30 a.m. worrying” about it.
If anything, some of O’Brien’s hedging publicly could be a motivational ploy to his players. And it stretches beyond his quarterbacks.
The Lions also don’t have a clear-cut starter yet at one safety position or at right tackle on the offensive line.
On defense, junior Adrian Amos, arguably the top all-around player on the team, has one safety spot locked down. The other, though, is a battle between senior Malcolm Willis and junior Ryan Keiser, a former walk-on.
Again, fans won’t find out more until Saturday.
O’Brien did call Keiser an “unsung hero for us.” The Selinsgrove native plays on several special teams units and earned his scholarship last year.
On the offensive line, senior Adam Gress has dealt with minor injuries in camp and has struggled to hold off Gary Gilliam, a converted tight end.
That will be yet another game-time reveal, O’Brien said.
All four players, however, are expected to play Saturday, no matter who starts.
And that’s the same for Dallastown linebacker Ben Kline, who has struggled to get his surgically-repaired shoulder completely healed. He is a go for Saturday, though, O’Brien said.
Kline will serve as a top backup.
“Ben Kline is a fantastic guy. I’ve said this over and over again.”
O’Brien went on to describe him as example of what a Penn State football player should represent — strong academics, toughness, loyalty and dedication on and off the field.
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