Bill O’Brien’s biggest decision of the summer is coming soon. But that doesn’t mean it has gotten any easier for him.
The Penn State coach called the battle for the starting quarterback job “very even” on Thursday morning, saying that both Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg will likely see the field at some point in 2013.
Last week O’Brien said Ferguson had a slight edge for the job because of his knowledge of the offense from spring ball. But Hackenberg, the true freshman, has evidently closed the gap this week.
“I’m pretty close (to a decision),” O’Brien said with training camp nearing the end of its second week. “I don’t know that I have an exact day yet. But I’m pretty close.
“One thing about it, just to be clear — 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. In my experience, in 20 years, many times … there were two guys, but really it’s 1A or 1B. Let’s not put a huge amount of stock in who the starter is.”
O’Brien has been adamant in the past that he prefers to use one quarterback if he can help it, but conceded Thursday that the Nittany Lions “can’t rule out anything” this season given the situation. Neither candidate for the job has thrown a pass in a major college football game.
With that in mind, O’Brien was pleased with the progress made by both players as the Lions prepare to open against Syracuse in just two weeks.
“I spoke to both guys this morning and I told them I couldn’t be prouder of where they’re at right now with how they’ve worked,” O’Brien said. “Both had a lot of good moments, both made their share of mistakes. But it is even right now. We’re going to let that play out a few more days.
“One thing’s apparent — we don’t need to hold back much with Christian or with Tyler. They’re bright guys with the way they study, the way they come back from one day to the next and improve on things they made a mistake on. They do a nice job on walkthroughs, they ask great questions. They’re fun to coach. We don’t hold a lot back with them.”
• On the injury front, not much has changed in the past week. O’Brien remains hopeful that linebacker Ben Kline will be able to play against Syracuse despite being “day-to-day” throughout camp as he battles back from offseason shoulder surgery.
“We’ve got to manage that as coaches,” O’Brien said. “Maybe put a harness on him. But he’s a tough kid. You want kids like Kline on your football team.”
O’Brien said presumptive starting right tackle Adam Gress “got banged up a bit, but he’ll be fine. Other than that, we’re good. Knock on wood.”
• With tight end Brent Wilkerson out indefinitely with a back injury, O’Brien confirmed that blue chip true freshman Adam Breneman “will definitely play.”
“Breneman’s had a good camp,” O’Brien said. “Smart player. Good player, good hands. Tough. Yeah, he’ll be playing.”
• O’Brien lauded a pair of fifth-year seniors in wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder and tight end Matt Lehman, who both received their diplomas in the past week.
“Put that in your articles,” O’Brien said. “That’s unbelievable. Two guys that graduated in the middle of training camp.”
• Junior tailback Bill Belton is in the clear academically for the season, O’Brien said. Belton had scaled back his involvement in summer workouts to focus on his grades, and the extra work paid off.