Before he’s officially taken a snap, freshman Christian Hackenberg is in the race to be the starting quarterback for the Penn State football team.
Hackenberg, the prized recruit from Fork Union, was listed along with junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson at the top of the team’s depth chart, which was released Thursday afternoon. The two were separated by the word “or.”
Nittany Lion coach Bill O’Brien said throughout the spring that Hackenberg would be in the mix to start heading into preseason camp in the fall. That became more apparent when Steven Bench, the team’s only experienced returning quarterback, asked for and was granted a transfer after spring practice which concluded with the Blue-White Game. Bench is now at South Florida.
Ferguson, a transfer from the College of Sequoias in California, arrived on campus in January.
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Hackenberg is rated by Rivals.com as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2013.
Whoever wins the battle will have an impressive stable of running backs give the ball to. Zach Zwinak, who came off the bench, to become a 1,000-yard rusher, is listed on top of the running back chart. Bill Belton, the starter at the beginning of last season, and Akeel Lynch, who impressed in the spring game, followed.
The offensive line starters are pretty much as expected. Ty Howle is at center. John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach are the guards, while Adam Gress and Donovan Smith are at tackle.
Jesse James has the edge at Y tight end, while Kyle Cater is on top at Y/F tight end. Record-setting Allen Robinson is at one wide receiver spot, while Brandon Moseby Felder is at the other. Pat Zerbe is listed as the starting fullback.
The most notable changes come in the defensive backfield.
Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, a starter at safety last season, is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart. He is behind Adrian Amos, a starter a cornerback last season, who has been moved to safety.
Malcolm Willis, also a starter last season at safety, hasn’t been guaranteed a starting slot, either. He has an “or” listed with his name at the top of the chart along with Ryan Keiser.
The Nittany Lions have two new starters listed at the corners. Sophomores Jordan Lucas, who had an outstanding spring, and Trevor Williams are on the top of the chart.
As expected, Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan are listed as starters at defensive end, along with Daquan Jones at tackle. Kyle Baublitz has the edge at the other tackle slot.
Middle linebacker Glenn Carson, who had 85 tackles last season, is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Mike Hull, who moved into the lineup after Michael Mauti was injured, is at one outside spot, while Nyeem Wartman is at the other.
The major special teams starters remain the same. Sam Ficken will do the placekicking, while Alex Butterworth is at punter.
Carson will snap on kicks, while Keiser will hold.
Belton and former State College standout Alex Kenney are listed as the top two kickoff returners. Jesse Della Valle and freshman Richy Anderson are the top two punt returners.