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Roberson shows he has backup plan

PSU commentary

UNIVERSITY PARK — Beyond the obvious overall improvement necessary to separate itself from what led to last season’s unthinkable 0-5 start, Penn State’s top priority this spring has been to find a backup quarterback.

The Nittany Lions appeared to accomplish that with Ta’Quan Roberson.

Sean Clifford is entrenched, heading into his third season as the starter, solidified when two-year backup Will Levis transferred to Kentucky.

In two public practices over the past week that replaced this year’s Blue-White game, Clifford kept his status and Roberson did enough to inspire confidence.

During Friday night’s session under the lights at Beaver Stadium, Clifford led several touchdown drives — some which started at midfield. He connected with Jahan Dotson for an early 50-yard score, made possible by shoddy tackling, then set up another with a soft 30-yard sideline route to Cam Sullivan-Brown.

Roberson was decisive, particularly on shorter routes, and threw some darts. He showed quick feet in the pocket and potential elusiveness.

His underneath zinger to Winston Eubanks, a Shippensburg transfer, was a highlight.

Beyond Clifford and Roberson, true freshman Christian Veilleux, who arrived on campus in January, and Baldwin product Mason Stahl saw snaps Friday night.

Franklin had entertained scouring the transfer portal for a quarterback, but at this juncture, it’s hard to believe it will happen, given that it’s about to be May and the chaos it creates in terms of roster management, both with QBs here and the two 2022 recruits who have committed.

Though Clifford and Roberson may not be great, they should be serviceable.

Franklin, though, will need regular-season proof.

“I don’t think you’re ever comfortable (with a backup) until they have game reps at significant moments,” he said Friday night, repeating his comments from last week’s practice. “That hasn’t changed.”

He also said the quarterbacks “can be impacted more than any other position by the people around them. Having a strong supporting case is going to make a difference.”

Then there’s the new/latest offensive coordinator factor.

Mike Yurcich is the third OC in the past three years — the fifth in eight seasons under Franklin — but he brings an excellent track record.

“The consistency in the coaching staff and the scheme make a difference, too,” Franklin said.

The players have talked about the pace of the playcalling this spring, and it was noticeable Friday night. They even displayed a new wrinkle, going under center at the goal line, forbidden by Franklin’s previous coordinators, including Joe Moorhead.

Overall, Franklin felt the team “had a great spring.”

Along with defensive coordinator Brent Pry, Franklin plans to attend next week’s NFL Draft to support Micah Parsons, a projected top-10 pick.

Sandwiched around that will be individual meetings with every player, underscoring areas of focus over the summer.

From the quarterbacks, Franklin is looking for leadership and diligent film study, including of Texas’ games last year since Yurcich was calling the plays, along with organization of 7-on-7 drills.

“Before we know it,” he said, “we’re going to blink, and training camp will be here. The work to be done between now and Game 1 will be important.”

Game 1, by the way, is at Wisconsin on Sept. 4 – not exactly the cupcake opener this team may need.

Rudel can be reached at 814-946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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