Penn State welcomed five-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg to the Class of 2013 on Wednesday, and it may not be too long until he contends for a starting job. Head coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday the competition for the starting job should be a good one.
“Those guys, Christian, Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson, any one of those guys could be our starting quarterback against Syracuse, no question about it,” O’Brien said Wednesday when addressing the media about the Class of 2013. “Don't expect me to really name a starting quarterback at the end of spring practice. I might, but I might not.”
Hackenberg, the nation’s top pro-style quarterback, is considered the crown jewel of Penn State’s newest recruiting class. The Virginia product has strong Pennsylvania ties and has already established a solid relationship with his new teammates such as tight end Adam Breneman. ESPN’s Tom Luginbill said on air Wednesday Hackenberg has the potential to be an impact player for the Nittany Lions as early as this season. He will compete against another newly acquired quarterback in junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and the lone scholarship quarterback from 2012, Steven Bench.
The competition for the starting job in the fall will begin in the spring. Hackenberg will not arrive on campus until the summer so he will be unable to practice with the team in March and April. While Ferguson and Bench are working with the team Hackenberg will have to do whatever he can away from the school to pick up the offense by studying film and the offense. Fortunately for Penn State, O’Brien feels confident Hackenberg is the type of student-athlete who can handle the responsibility on and off the field.
“When you play quarterback at Penn State, you have to really learn how to balance the classroom with being the best‑prepared quarterback you can be,” O’Brien said Wednesday. “Working in the weight room, studying the playbook, studying the game plan, your opponent, then obviously going to class, which is number one, will always be number one at Penn State.”
Hackenberg’s situation is somewhat similar to the one faced by former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden. Like Hackenberg will, Bolden was named the starting quarterback for Penn State’s season opener in 2010 despite not joining the team until the summer. Bolden was also a highly rated recruit. When Bolden won the starting job as a true freshman he beat out McGloin, Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome. Newsome ended up transferring to Temple. Bolden and Jones would have been on the Penn State roster this year but each has transferred within the last year.
Now the quarterback position is raw on playing time, which should be a concern for Penn State in 2013. O’Brien, though, believes the position will be in good shape for this season.
“We feel really good about our quarterback room right now,” O’Brien said. “It's young; it's a young quarterback room. Whoever plays quarterback for us next year, whoever takes the field in the Syracuse game will basically be playing college football for the first time.”
Bench saw a few snaps in 2012 while filling in for a briefly injured McGloin, but O’Brien appeared to be reluctant to use Bench at other points in the season. Refraining from using Bench may have been a move to try and preserve a red-shirt year for the only quarterback on scholarship coming back from last season. One advantage Bench will have over Hackenberg and Ferguson is the one year’s worth of time invested in the offensive system. Given the complexities of the offense, that could give Bench a leg up on the competition for 2013.
“[Hackenberg's] making the jump from high school to college; that's a big jump,” O’Brien said. “The system that we run here at Penn State is not the simplest system in the world to learn for a quarterback. He's going to have to really begin to study and understand what it takes to play quarterback at this level, which we've talked about a lot in the recruiting process.”
Time will tell just when Hackenberg gets a chance to show off his arm. Chances are Penn State fans will not have to wait until the 2014 Blue White Game to finally lay eyes on the newest quarterback. The odds are, unless he wins the starting job right out of the gate, fans will at least see Hackenberg play some back-up duty in the fall. That is unless, of course, O’Brien refrains from using Hackenberg the way he tried to stay away from Bench in 2012.
“We think Christian is a guy that's going to come in here and do all those things and we feel really good about our room at that position.”
The competition is on.