STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has repeatedly contended that he’s a one-quarterback coach. That philosophy might change this season.
The duel between redshirt sophomore Tyler Ferguson, a junior college transfer, and true freshman Christian Hackenberg, a five-star recruit rated the top pocket passer in the nation, is a dead heat.
During a teleconference Thursday, O’Brien not only said that neither quarterback had won the job, he also hinted that both would play.
“First of all, the update is, it’s very even. It’s even,” O’Brien said. “I actually spoke to both guys this morning and I told them that I couldn’t be prouder of where they’re at right now and how they’ve worked.
“They both have had a lot of good moments and they’ve both made their share of mistakes, but it’s very even right now. So, we’ll let that play out a few more days.”
O’Brien said he has seen each player make day-to-day improvements and, with the opener against Syracuse looming on Aug. 31 in East Rutherford, N.J., he is close to naming a starter.
He cautioned, however, that who the starter is might not mean as much as it normally would.
“I’m pretty close. I don’t know if I have an exact day yet, but I’m pretty close,” O’Brien said. “The one thing about it, too, just so everybody is clear on this, is that whatever you do there, whoever I name as a starter, the next guy, quite obviously, has to be ready to go and more than likely will play this year.
“Let’s not put a huge amount of stock into who the starter is. That guy, look, he’ll start the game, but the other guy is going to play football for us this year.”
And, in a departure from his previous stance, O’Brien said the backup could play in the same game as the starter.
“You know, there will be a starting quarterback and then we’ll go from there. We don’t rule out anything. I do believe in playing one quarterback, but I think it’s hard to rule out anything. I think you’ve got two talented players there and we’ll do what’s best for the team,” he said.
While O’Brien detailed the battle raging for the starting quarterback job, he also gave up dates on several other players and positions.
At tight end, he said Brent Wilkerson is out with an injury, and true freshman Adam Breneman, the top-rated tight end in the country out of Cedar Cliff High School in Camp Hill, Pa., will play.
“Breneman will definitely play,” O’Brien said. “He’s had a good camp. We’ve got four tight ends. All those guys have played well. Jesse James, Matt Lehman’s had a good camp. Kyle Carter has been his usual self. And Adam Breneman has had a good camp. Smart player, tough kid, good hands, he can run. Yeah, he’ll be playing.”
At linebacker, leading backup Ben Kline, who has been nursing a shoulder injury, should be ready for the opener.
“I believe he’ll be ready to go,” O’Brien said. “We have to do a great job of managing that. That’s a shoulder injury that maybe we have to put a harness on him, but he’s a tough kid. You want guys like Ben Kline on your football team.”
Another key contributor who should be ready for the opener is running back Bill Belton. The starter at the start of the season a year ago until he was supplanted by Zach Zwinak, Belton was an academic question mark until the second summer semester ended last week.
“He’s eligible. He’s good to go and he’s had a really good camp,” O’Brien said. “He’s running the ball well, he’s catching the ball well. He’s doing a nice job for us.”