Franklin keeping close eye on QB Stevens
UNIVERSITY PARK — Tommy Stevens, Penn State’s expected starting quarterback, will be handled cautiously this spring and, depending on his progress, might be questionable for the Blue-White Game.
Stevens did not play in six of the Lions’ 13 games last season and did not make the trip to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando after undergoing surgery.
Penn State coach James Franklin does not specify injuries, but Stevens wore a boot last spring and has been battling foot troubles.
Franklin called the injury “fairly significant,” adding his effectiveness was limited in the seven games he did appear.
He said Stevens could possibly “be a full go” by the end of spring practice — the Blue-White game is April 13 (3 p.m.) — but added, “I’m not sure of that yet.”
Penn State opened spring drills Wednesday with numerous question marks, none bigger than Stevens’ health.
The fifth-year senior has waited for his opportunity for the last three seasons, sitting behind Trace McSorley.
Franklin wants to reward Stevens’ patience without rushing him.
“I think Tommy understands that, ‘Hey, I’ve have got to step into this role right now; I have a responsibility to run the offense and to lead the offense,” Franklin said. “Trace had instant credibility with our team from what he had done the previous years. Tommy understands it’s his turn now to step up. Sean (Clifford) feels that way, too.”
Franklin called Stevens’ injury, “In some ways … a blessing in disguise for Sean because Sean was able to gain some experience.”
One factor in monitoring Stevens’ progress is his surgery was not done by the Penn State medical staff.
“We’re dealing with our own doctors and trainers on campus, but he had the surgery off campus,” Franklin said. “So we are communicating with his doctor, as well, and trying to get everybody on the same page.”
Stevens, an Indiana product, has attempted just 41 passes in his career, completing 24 for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
He’s shown more of a penchant to run out of the pocket, sometimes via a designed run. He’s rushed 76 times for 506 yards, a 6.7 average, and eight touchdowns.
Despite not yet starting a game, he’s eighth on PSU’s career rushing list for quarterbacks.
Stevens was dressed for practice Wednesday and went through arm stretches. Media present was ushered out before any throwing took place.
Clifford completed 5-of-7 passes last year for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Will Levis would be the third-teamer at this point.
New special teams coach
Joe Lorig, the Lions’ new special teams coach who replaced Phil Galiano, was part of Wednesday’s press conference.
Lorig roomed with Franklin when the two were on the staff at Idaho State in 1999.
Franklin would like to have “more offensive players” on this year’s units, and Lorig said his mantra for special teams is to “change the game.”
He’s been a college assistant for 22 years, including three as special teams coordinator at Memphis and two at Arizona State. In three seasons at Memphis, Lorig’s teams returned eight kicks for touchdowns, breaking a 21-year drought.
“The fastest way to improve a football team is through special teams,” Lorig said.
n Junior wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer has been excused from spring drills to play baseball, which was agreed upon during his recruitment. He’s an outfielder. “Bo Jackson for us,” Franklin said.
n Junior C.J. Thorpe, who was switched to the defensive line to provide depth last year, is back at offensive guard. “He’s got an unbelievable ceiling as an offensive lineman” who “brings a physicality that we missed (in 2018),” Franklin said.
n While Ricky Slade is the leading candidate to replace departed tailback Miles Sanders, Franklin qualified that by saying the starter would likely be Slade or Journey Brown. “That’s probably a slash (either-or),” Franklin said.
n Priority positions to build depth are defensive tackle, wide receiver and safety, Franklin said, adding “we’ve got to find a two-deep we can win with.”
n Penn State’s Pro Day is Tuesday. Altoona’s Kevin Givens, who bypassed a final year of eligibility, is one of the 14 Lions scheduled to participate.