A month ago, the situation seemed very clear to Bill O’Brien.
Spend the first two weeks of camp on his quarterback competition. Spend the last two weeks getting his starter ready for the opener against Syracuse.
But Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg continue to make it a tough decision.
In a series of interviews Tuesday, O’Brien said he would likely pick a starter “by the end of the week” for the Aug. 31 opener against Syracuse. The Penn State coach emphasized that he expects both players will see the field at some point early on.
“These are two of the best young quarterbacks I’ve ever coached,” O’Brien said, first in a radio interview on ESPN’s Mike & Mike, and then again to reporters in State College. “I’ve never had more fun coaching quarterbacks than I’ve had coaching these two guys. They’re bright guys. They work at it, they compete in practice, they’ve got good demeanors, they’ve got good huddle command. I’ve had a lot of fun coaching both of these guys.”
O’Brien said that the starter will get most of the practice reps next week and the majority of the snaps in the game against the Orange at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
But where O’Brien was reluctant to pull Matt McGloin last season in any situation, the coach concedes that it will be different in 2013 because he doesn’t have a veteran starter.
“In this situation where you have two young guys, I think it’s important for each guy to continue to earn their stripes and continue to gain the respect of their teammates,” O’Brien said. “Until I feel really good about where that’s at, I’d say both guys, it’s very close.
“The guy that’s the starter is going to be the starter. But I think it’s important when you have two young guys, it’s a totally different situation than last year. Whoever the backup is is a young guy that needs to get his feet wet a little bit. So, why not play him a series here or there, just to get him into a major college football game and let him get his feet wet?”
• Starting right tackle Adam Gress continues to be hampered by a knee injury, but O’Brien expects him to return to practice soon. Converted tight end Garry Gilliam has run with the first team in his absence.
• Top tailback Zach Zwinak (wrist) is no longer wearing a red no-contact jersey and should be full-go for Syracuse.
• Linebacker Ben Kline (shoulder) has been able to progressively do more at practice as camp goes on.
Radio team stays intact
The radio broadcast team of Steve Jones and Jack Ham has signed on for at least three more years of calling Penn State football on the Penn State Sports Network.
Jones and Ham will begin their 14th consecutive season of calling Nittany Lions games when Bill O’Brien’s squad meets Syracuse on Aug. 31.
Loren Crispell returns as the sideline reporter and Roger Corey will host the pregame show.
Jones has served as the play-by-play voice of Nittany Lions basketball since 1982, and Penn State football since 2000. He co-hosts the Penn State Football Show and Penn State Basketball Show on Thursday at 6:05 p.m., from late August through March.
Ham was a first-team All-America linebacker for the Nittany Lions. He is an NFL Hall of Famer and earned nine consecutive All-Pro selections during his 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also serves as an analyst on NFL Network radio broadcasts.