CHICAGO - Christian Hackenberg hasn't won the starting quarterback job just yet, and even though Tyler Ferguson is away from the team, Bill O'Brien said both players will split the reps evenly when Penn State's training camp opens next week.
"I'm going to see, hopefully pretty quickly, who stands out," O'Brien said. "And maybe neither one of them do, and then I have to make a choice."
Ferguson is back home in California visiting his family and mother, who has breast cancer, but O'Brien gave no indication that his leave of absence will count against him in the quarterback competition. The coach also doesn't think Ferguson has lost the respect of his teammates for leaving the team.
"They haven't played in a game yet," O'Brien said. "Where you really earn the respect of your team, where you ultimately earn it, is after you've won the job in practice or training camp, then you go out into a game and you win a game as the starting quarterback.
"However our team feels about either guy right now, you'd have to ask them," the coach added later. "But I can tell you that once we make a decision on who [the starter] is, then that guy's got to go out and play well in the game, and that's when he ultimately earns the respect."
It once was considered a big day, but now Aug. 1 has little meaning to the Penn State players. Guard John Urschel didn't even know what it was when asked.
It's the day that members of the team can no longer take advantage of the NCAA sanction that allows a player to transfer and be able to play immediately at another Division I school.
"That's not a relevant date for us, for our football team," Urschel said. "That's not an issue. Our football team is very much together, very much working toward one goal of winning football games in the fall."
Training camp opens Aug. 1 for the Nittany Lions, so that's the transfer cutoff set forth by the NCAA. O'Brien also downplayed the significance of that date because, although some players did take advantage of the transfer policy, the coach knows the ones who really want to be at Penn State made their decision to stay a long time ago.
"For a long time now I've felt very confident about our players' commitment to us and our commitment to our players," O'Brien said. "I think our players, there's a lot of respect between the coaches and the players. We're not friends, we're not their friends, but there's just a lot of respect."
Running back Zach Zwinak won't take part in contact drills early in training camp, but O'Brien expects to have him ready to go by the middle of camp. Zwinak injured his left wrist in the Blue-White Game.
"Zach, I've seen him three or four times over the summertime, and he says, according to him, he's ahead of schedule," O'Brien said. "But he looks to be that way, and so we would expect him to be probably a little bit ahead of schedule."
Tight end Kyle Carter, who suffered a wrist injury at the end of last season, is expected to be fully ready to go for the start of camp.
News and notes
n O'Brien said defensive backs Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong could spend some time at linebacker, depending on certain defensive schemes.
n Athletic director Dave Joyner said the university is trying to find ways to make the gameday experience more enjoyable for fans at Beaver Stadium, so they'll come out as opposed to watching at home on TV.
Joyner was asked if declining attendance is more of a financial concern or appearance concern, since it leaves many empty seats.
"More people in the stadium, obviously you bring more money in," he said. "But we want to have a full stadium. We want that experience because that contributes to the experience. The more people you have in the stands, the more exciting it is, the more people want to be there and want to be part of that."
n O'Brien said recruit Zayd Issah "won't be at Penn State" following a second arrest.
n Last year's team was lauded for its great senior leadership, and Urschel said the squad has that again this season.
"It's a different type of leadership," he said. "We don't have a vocal Michael Mauti. There is no Michael Mauti on this team. But we have some guys who have played a lot of football who know what it takes to win, the preparation and dedication that's required. There's not a lot of talking, there's a lot of getting things done."
n Urschel said he, Malcolm Willis and Glenn Carson all worked out at 4 a.m. Wednesday before they got on the plane for Chicago.