CHICAGO — His top quarterback from the spring remains three time zones away from campus. His other candidate for the starting job isn’t allowed to talk football with him until next month. Neither has played a down of major college football.
Through it all, Bill O’Brien sees an opportunity.
Whether it’s Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg who starts under center against Syracuse in five weeks, the Penn State coach is going to enjoy the time he has to work with them.
“One thing that’s really exciting about working with young quarterbacks is that you get a chance to really mold that quarterback,” O’Brien said Wednesday at the first session of Big Ten media days. “You get a chance to really teach that quarterback. And (quarterbacks coach) Charlie Fisher and I are going to do that and work hard at teaching our quarterbacks how to play in our offense, managing a game and play smart, tough Penn State football. We are excited about that.
“We are going to have to make a decision at some point during training camp to allow the starter to get enough reps to be ready for the Syracuse game. It sure is exciting for us, a challenge for us and we are looking forward to it.”
O’Brien reiterated Wednesday that he will split reps between Ferguson and Hackenberg for the first two weeks of training camp, with the first practice scheduled for Aug. 5.
He will then make a decision on a starter at the midway point of camp.
“I think in order to give that guy — whoever that guy will be, Tyler or Christian — in order to give him enough time to prepare for an excellent Syracuse team that throws a lot at you defensively, you have to give them a couple of weeks to get ready for the first game at the very least,” O’Brien said. “Especially a young quarterback.
“Probably halfway through, we’ll have enough evaluation of our practice film and all the different things that go into being the starting quarterback at Penn State, not only on the practice field but in the meeting room, and we’ll make a good decision. We’ll do what’s best for the football team.”
Hackenberg, a five-star recruit regarded by some services as the top pocket passer in the country for the last class, arrived in State College in June. O’Brien and the coaching staff can’t begin working with him, however, until camp opens.
After emerging as the top candidate in the spring, Ferguson returned home to California this month for personal reasons. Ferguson’s mother is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
“He’ll be back,” O’Brien said. “Summer’s voluntary, right? The last time I read the NCAA rulebook, summer’s voluntary. He’s not there. He’s at home. He’s got some personal things that he’s dealing with at home.
“To me, he’ll come in, he’ll be here for training camp. What time, what day, all those things, I mean, I don’t know. I am sure he’ll be in the first team meeting and he’ll be ready to compete with Christian for that job.”
A few new linebackers?
As the Nittany Lions’ roster continues to shrink as a result of the NCAA sanctions, the coaches have admitted they may have to get creative with the depth chart.
Already things are looking thin at linebacker, where the Lions have only two players with significant experience in Glenn Carson and Mike Hull.
One option could be to line up safeties Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong in the box from time to time.
“We’ve got to look at all the different players we have on defense as it relates to the linebacker position,” O’Brien said. “What can a guy like Adrian Amos do? Can he play safety? Can he play corner? Can he play linebacker? Stephen Obeng, can he come down and play some linebacker for us?”
A bit later in the day, O’Brien said it wasn’t something that was set in stone, but that the Lions are in a position where they have to consider all options.
Amos in particular drew heaps of praise from coaches and teammates a year ago as one of the strongest players on the team pound-for-pound. Had the Lions needed him to step in at linebacker in 2012, he probably could have pulled it off despite playing exclusively in the secondary.
“I think really from the end of the season until now, we’ve talked about a lot of different scenarios,” O’Brien said of Amos. “He’ll be a safety for us but can he do some things down in the box, even as a safety, which means maybe you’ve got to play a little bit more post-safety coverage, which is hard in this league because there are some really good outside receivers.
“So it all comes down to the health. Can Obeng go down and play some Will (weakside) linebacker and things like that? We kind of sit in there and we just talk about different scenarios, and I know (defensive coordinator) John Butler does it a lot more than I do on defense. I think they’ve got a lot of different scenarios covered. So we’ll see.”
Changing ticket policies
Single-game tickets for Penn State’s home games this season will go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday. But fans looking just to see the Lions’ biggest opponents on the home schedule — Michigan and Nebraska — will have to pay more.
The prices for those games are the same as for any other game. But fans will be required to buy a ticket to the Eastern Michigan game for each Michigan ticket purchased. For the Nebraska game, fans will have to buy an equal number of tickets to the Kent State game.
“We looked at our peers,” Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said of the policy change. “They’re doing tier pricing. We didn’t do that yet. Who knows? We may do that some day. The Olympics do a lot of this.
“How do we stimulate and continue interest in our football games? How do we stimulate people to want to come to the stadium? It’s a new way of looking at it. A new way of marketing it.”