When Penn State opens spring practice later Friday, only one position group will be in the spotlight. The Nittany Lions are looking for a quarterback after losing two-year starter and Big Ten co-MVP Daryll Clark, who set several team passing records and led Penn State to consecutive 11-win seasons in 2008 and 2009. There's a ton of youth and very little experience at the position, as sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will try to hold off talented incoming recruits Paul Jones (already enrolled) and Robert Bolden. Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno will oversee the intriguing competition, and he took some time this week to talk about the personnel and his expectations for the spring.
How different will this spring be for you with so many young guys on the field?
Jay Paterno: Obviously, it's a lot different. You can't immediately do all the things we did last year with Daryll. We were able to do a lot from Day 1, so that makes it different. It's challenging, it's going to be a lot of fun, and it's why you coach. If this was the NFL, we'd have re-signed Daryll for five more years, and I'd have no worries this spring. But that's the difference between college and pro. We've got to move on.
What are your expectations, realistically, for these guys, and where would you like to see them at the end of the spring?
JP: It's hard to say where you want to see them. Kevin was the No. 2 guy last year, and McGloin was the No. 3 guy. So we had a package all year long that we would have played with if they had to play, if Daryll got hurt. So we have a launch point from that package to move on from there. And the things we had for them last year, there was enough variety -- formations, motions, things like that -- that we could have played a game and felt comfortable and we would have had enough to keep people off balance. So hopefully we can get those guys to move beyond that and be able to add some things and continue to grow. And I think they will be able to. The meetings we've had so far have gone really, really well. They're on top of what they need to know so far. I see a lot more maturity, a lot of intensity because all of a sudden, they're all in the mix. So it's been a good winter so far, and I'm hoping to see them build off what we did last year.
Were you hoping to get Kevin and maybe Matt into more games last year?
JP: You always wish you'd played the second guy and the third guy more than you did. There's really nobody in the country who would tell you differently. But we got them about as much playing time as we could, without jeopardizing the success of our team. People say, "Why didn't you play the second guy more often?" And the answer is, "Well, do you want us to stick him in there in the third quarter against LSU when we're in a tight game? When would you want to see him play?" It's one of those things that you always wish you'd played them a little bit more, but we did get Kevin a pretty good number of plays. He played more than people think. Obviously, he didn't start any games, but we got him some reps and he's been in games and he's comfortable going in there and running the huddle, things like that. So I don't think that'll be a problem.
Does Kevin have a bit of a leg up on the other guys, just because he's been out there more, or is everyone starting from square one?
JP: He would have a leg up, simply because he ran as our No. 2 last year. One of the things I do in the spring is I chart every pass they throw: why it was successful, why it wasn't. Sometimes, a play isn't successful because they were in the right defense. Sometimes, a kid drops the ball and that's not on the quarterback. We went through this with [Pat] Devlin and Clark, where we charted every pass, so on my computer I could pull up every pass we did. What they did last fall and where they came from in high school, none of that stuff matters. It's all going to be a matter of performance as we go forward. So [Newsome] would have a little bit of a leg up because he got more reps last spring and last fall than the other guys. But once we hit practice No. 1, it's not going to matter.
You've obviously seen these guys a lot more than we have on the outside. From a stylistic standpoint, are they very different? Are they similar? How will that affect what you do schematically?
JP: In terms of the difference in styles, Matt McGloin's probably more of a pocket guy than Kevin, just because that was the offense he ran in high school. Kevin was in more of a Wing-T, running, the same type of offense Michael Robinson ran in high school. Kevin, when he breaks contain, he does some really good things running the ball down the field. Matt is really comfortable sitting in the pocket and making the throws. We're getting Kevin to that point. That's going to be one thing we're going to work on, and with most young quarterbacks, that's the case. They have a tendency, when things break down, [to say] 'I better get out of here,' instead of staying in there like Daryll did for us so much. And then Paul, I haven't really seen Paul do anything live for us yet, so it's hard for me to really make any kind of judgment as to what he will be stylistically. He ran really well when we timed the guys. We did some winter conditioning, some things where they were running around and stuff. He moves really well, so he has the escapability that you want. And having had him in camp a year ago, we know he can throw.
How we are schematically, we start with the things that they handled last year and were comfortable with, and seemed to build from there. In the back of my mind, the ideal situation is they develop into all the things we want to do with them. But you're starting with the base point of what they could handle last fall, and you continue to build on that. If you get all the way to all the things you want to do, then great. If not, you've got to run with what they're best at doing. We're not going to be drastically different. We have a system that we're in now, and we're going to pretty much be in that system. We're not going to all of a sudden become three tight ends, two backs. We're not going to be running the wishbone.
Coming in Part II: Timetable for a decision on the starter, Bolden's outlook