James Franklin went through the quick math. He even used the word “dicey,” which is a delicious little word. This seems clear, after listening to what the coach said: Penn State is going to have to bring in a quarterback from the transfer portal at some point, most likely a month or so from now after spring practice ends.
The Nittany Lions have only three scholarship QBs on the roster: two-year starter Sean Clifford, redshirt freshman Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Christian Veilleux.
Is three enough?
Nope. Franklin made that crystal clear during his spring practice preview news conference Monday afternoon.
“You’d like to be at five scholarship quarterbacks all the time. I think you can get away with four. Three gets a little dicey. So we’ll see how that goes,” Franklin said.
The Lions know what they have with Clifford, and they know some about what they have with Roberson, who was third string last year behind Clifford and Will Levis, who transferred to Kentucky.
But the question Franklin and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich need to answer this spring is EXACTLY what they have with the backup QBs, because that will determine what will happen next.
“Come the end of spring, we’d like to have a pretty good idea of who our first-team, second-team and third-team quarterbacks are,” Franklin said. “And then also what do we need to do — whether it’s transfer portal or whatever it may be — do we feel like we need to go out and bring another guy in?”
What the coaches ultimately will have to determine at the end of spring ball is if they truly feel comfortable with Roberson or Veilleux — most likely Roberson, just to be clear here — as the backup quarterback for what is expected to be a good Penn State team this year. And whatever they determine will lead them down one of two paths.
If Roberson performs well and the coaches believe that he can come in for Clifford at any point and lead the team to a win this fall, then Franklin and his staff won’t face as much pressure turning to the transfer portal. They would merely be looking for a quarterback to provide depth just in case, not someone who would be expected to come in and make a big impact on the field this year.
However, if Roberson struggles this spring, it would change a lot of the transfer portal dynamic. In that scenario, Franklin and Yurcich may feel like they need to go out and get a proven guy — a veteran — who would indeed be ready to contribute at a moment’s notice if needed this fall.
Finding a transfer reserve QB who won’t play much as much could be much easier. A decent number of potential guys might be looking for an opportunity to move up to a major program such as Penn State and would be content with even being third string.
But if PSU is looking for a guy who’s good enough to step right in and be a legitimate backup right away, then there’s a good chance those type of proven quarterbacks will have even bigger goals and would want a chance to compete for a starting job wherever they go.
In short, a quarterback in that situation would be more difficult to lure to Penn State, where Clifford is entrenched and has two years of eligibility remaining.
It can be dicey, to use Franklin’s word, trying to bring in a quarterback because it can upset the apple cart in some ways and lead to unwanted consequences. The new guy needs to be a good fit, not just for the most important position in sports, but also with all other aspects of the team.
“First of all, we want to see Ta’Quan and Christian, we want to feel like that we could put those guys in a game and win with them, based on what they do in practice, and there’s still a lot of time between now and next season for them to do that,” Franklin said. “So that’s going to be the emphasis in meetings and practices and in scrimmages and those types of things, just want to see them taking steps every single day and how they go about their business.”