Sean Clifford lined up against Penn State’s first-team defense Wednesday and barked out his cadence with authority.
“1-80! 1-80! Set! Hut!”
The true freshman quarterback — wearing a blue No. 14 jersey — fielded the snap, bolted right on a speed option and finished running through the whistle.
Even though he was just leading the scout team, prepping his teammates for Akron, Clifford did so with confidence — something that shouldn’t surprise his teammates. Despite being on-campus for only a couple months, the Ohio native beat redshirt freshman Jake Zembiec for the Nittany Lions’ No. 3 quarterback job.
Never miss a local story.
Heisman Trophy contender and starter Trace McSorley understands why James Franklin and the staff think so highly of Clifford.
“He’s one of those guys that when he came in, he was very knowledgeable about the game,” McSorley said on a Wednesday conference call. “He had a pretty good understanding of our offense before he got here. It’s a testament to him and what he was doing at home, studying what he could, talking to coaches when he came here in the spring, and even then as a recruit he was always asking questions.”
That attitude has extended in Clifford’s brief time in Happy Valley.
McSorley said the 2016 Elite 11 finalist possessed an admirable work ethic throughout fall camp and earlier in the summer.
“When we’d do 7-on-7s, Sean would ask me to stay out with him and help him out with what we do,” McSorley added. “He did whatever he could to try and get better.”
Compliments aside, it’s still expected that Clifford will redshirt. Unless McSorley and backup Tommy Stevens are injured, there’s no reason to see the true freshman take the field in 2017.
But when he eventually does, McSorley has confidence Clifford will flourish.
“I’m excited to see what the future holds,” McSorley said.
Franklin’s most talented team?
James Franklin has coached college football for two decades — and in his mind, this might be his best team yet.
When asked if the 2017 Nittany Lions are Franklin’s most talented squad, he hesitated at first. The fourth-year Penn State coach said it was a tough question and mentioned his time at Maryland, where he helped coach teams that featured NFL Pro Bowlers such as Shawne Merriman and Vernon Davis.
But, eventually, Franklin conceded.
“I don’t know,” the coach said. “I think you could easily make the argument. I think I’d say yeah.”
Smith sees Miller’s evolution
The Nittany Lions have a plethora of options at linebacker.
Jason Cabinda is entrenched at middle linebacker, and according to the first official depth chart released Tuesday, the starters on the outside are Koa Farmer and Manny Bowen. Outside linebacker Cam Brown is expected to be essentially a fourth starter, and senior Brandon Smith will eat up snaps, as well.
But Smith has been impressed with another ‘backer who’ll see time: redshirt sophomore Jarvis Miller.
Miller, who transitioned from safety last year, is listed as Penn State’s second-string “SAM” linebacker, and he “has come a long way,” per his teammate.
“He used to move like a safety trying to play linebacker and now he’s stating to trust the training, trust the process, starting to take the proper steps at the beginning of each play and get his eyes in the right place,” Smith said of Miller. “He’s been playing a lot more physically than he has in the past. ... Really proud of Jarvis. He’s made big improvements.”