Last season Penn State’s three starter candidates were learning Bill O’Brien’s offense in small doses. As O’Brien put it, he was introducing the foundation of his schemes. Sophomore Steven Bench was there then, sophomore Tyler Ferguson was not. Ferguson, a junior-college transfer is here now and appears to be neck-and-neck with Bench as both audition for the starting gig. Both have earned equal repetitions with the first-string unit so far and that is the most likely scenario for the intrasquad scrimmage.
Penn State fans haven’t glimpsed much of either player and practice sessions opened to reporters yielded only warm-up throwing, individual passing drills and some 7-on-7 work. How each quarterback commands his 10 teammates in a live scrimmage will offer hints to which player feels more comfortable where he is now.
Their performances in this game will not guarantee either Bench or Ferguson’s eventual rise to starter. As last season yielded, Matt McGloin said he made the most progress with his playbook during the summer and into training camp. How soon Bench or Ferguson get to that point is the key. Watch for the variety of the play calls and the types of throws O’Brien asks each quarterback to execute on Saturday.
RB Akeel Lynch
In high school Lynch was a visionary runner who hit holes quickly and used his blockers efficiently then outran defenders to the end zone. He has yet to carry the ball in college but after a redshirt season, is up to 214 pounds from 209 and packs a wallop, his teammates say. Penn State consistently relied on at least three running backs at all times last season and Lynch is said to be a solid complimentary piece to Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak as he shares traits with both. We’ll find out sooner rather than later. A toe ailment has nagged Belton lately and Lynch could see more time in his debut today.
WRs Malik Golden-Trevor Williams
This pair of wide receivers is now working with the defensive units. Specifically, Golden has played some safety while he and Williams have also spent time as the nickelback. Will new defensive coordinator John Butler deploy his new five-DB grouping and could we see more?
C Ty Howle
Taking over for an All-Big Ten center and potential NFL Draft pick will always draw eyes in your debut. But Howle isn’t a brand new face and has said he’s quite comfortable in his ability to perform at Matt Stankiewitch’s old spot. How the rest of the offensive line shakes out with respect to rotations — who’s backing up who now since Howle helped out at guard last season — and who gets the most looks at right tackle with Garry Gilliam out for the scrimmage are all valuable observations.
TE Brent Wilkerson
It’s good to be a tight end at Penn State. The athletic Wilkerson should get a lot of looks on intermediate routes designed to baffle linebackers. With Kyle Carter sitting out as he recuperates from wrist surgery and Gilliam slotted over at tackle now, Wilkerson will likely get a chance to play a lot behind Jesse James and Matt Lehman.