Tyler Ferguson will be back at Penn State at some point.
The quarterback who will enter the fall as a candidate to succeed Matt McGloin as the team’s starting signal-caller is currently in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., spending time with his family.
Ferguson transferred from College of the Sequoias and entered a position battle with Steven Bench in the spring. Bench transferred after coach Bill O’Brien told him he would not get equal repetitions in the fall, leaving Ferguson, a sophomore, and true freshman Christian Hackenberg to battle for the top spot.
But speculation arose in early July that Ferguson could seek a transfer before even playing a game.
At Big Ten Media Days on Wednesday, O’Brien said he expects Ferguson to return in time for the start of training camp on Aug. 5.
“We’ll have to make a decision at some point during training camp to allow the starter to get enough reps to be ready for the Syracuse game,” O’Brien said. “But it sure is exciting for us and it’s a challenge for us and we’re looking forward to it. ... I think you have to make the decision halfway through training camp.”
O’Brien was asked about the leadership expected to come from the quarterback position, and whether not being on campus helping lead offseason workouts could hurt Ferguson’s ability to win over his teammates.
“They haven’t played in a game yet,” O’Brien said. “Where you really earn the respect of your team, where you ultimately earn it is after you’ve won the job in spring practice or training camp practice and then you go out into a game and win a game as the starting quarterback and you make plays to help your team win the game. Ultimately that’s where you earn the respect of your team.”
O’Brien expects tight end Kyle Carter and running back Zach Zwinak to be ready to practice when training camp opens in two weeks.
Carter dislocated his right wrist in the Nebraska game and had surgery three days afterward. He was originally slated to miss all of spring practice but was able to catch passes and O’Brien said he expects the player who was on pace to shatter Penn State receiving numbers by a tight end at the time of his injury to be able to take contact right away.
Zwinak took part in Lift for Life earlier this month, and although he wore a wrap around his left hand from a break, showed no ill effects as he lifted heavy sandbags and sand-filled kegs over his head during the competition. While Zwinak is on pace to return to action, O’Brien said he could hold him out of contact for early portions of training camp as a precaution.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions will go into the season without Brad Bars, a defensive end who seemed poised to earn more playing time behind Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan.
Bars ruptured his Achilles tendon last week during a workout session.
“I really felt bad for him,” O’Brien said. “Here’s a guy that probably hasn’t been talked about enough. He’s a fantastic student. He’s a tough football player. He was not only a candidate for a starting job for us at (defensive end) but he was also a really good, core special teams player, so next man up on special teams too.”
O’Brien said redshirt freshman Evan Schwan could see added time in the defensive end rotation due to Bars’ injury. Bars, a junior who redshirted in 2010, is expected to rehab his injury and return for a fifth year next season.
Running back Bill Belton could be poised for a bigger role in the running back rotation after injuries slowed him last season, but O’Brien said he wants to see Belton do better in the classroom. O’Brien clarified that Belton is not in danger of being academically ineligible, however.
What other position might Adrian Amos play this season?
Add linebacker to that list.
O’Brien hinted that Amos — who played safety, cornerback and returned punts for Penn State at times last season — could potentially see some time directly behind the defensive line this fall. After returning standouts Mike Hull and Glenn Carson, the Nittany Lions are low on experienced linebackers, though redshirt freshman Nyeem Wartman is poised to handle a bulk of the playing time available following the departures of Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.
“I think we have a little bit more versatility because of the depth at (defensive back),” Carson said. “Even the personnel that we have in there, I think we can do a few more things this year which is really exciting.”
O’Brien mentioned Gary Wooten and Ben Kline as linebackers who will also get a chance to earn more playing time while safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong could also contribute as a linebacker.
“That’s a big thing with our team,” Safety Malcolm Willis said. “We have multiple guys that can play multiple positions. ... Amos can play safety, corner and linebacker. He has the size and speed to play all three. Obeng is the exact same way, he can play both safety positions and he can move into the box and play linebacker.”
Allen Robinson was named to the Big Ten’s preseason Players to Watch list, which includes five players from each division. Robinson, who won the Richter-Howard Big Ten Receiver of the Year award last season, is the only wideout on the list.
Entering his junior season, Robinson will try to improve on his career best totals from last season when he caught 77 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Joining Robinson on the list are Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, cornerback Bradley Robey and linebacker Ryan Shazier. Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland made the list, as did Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and Northwestern running back Venric Mark.
The New Guys
Last season, O’Brien was the Big Ten rookie. This year the conference welcomes new head coaches at Purdue and Wisconsin.
Darrell Hazell replaced Danny Hope at Purdue while Gary Anderson was hired by Wisconsin after Bret Bielema left to take over at Arkansas.
The two men are walking into entirely different circumstances.
Hazell, who spent the last two seasons as Kent State’s head coach, said the first time he met with his players he addressed the stigma that Purdue is a perennial middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers have had just one winning season and were 26-36 overall over the last five years.
“I told them, ‘It’s going to take a lot of work but we’re going to climb ourselves out of the middle and we’re going to put ourselves in national prominence for a long time.”
Anderson, previously the head coach at Utah State, is in a unique situation as he takes the reins of a squad that appeared in the conference title game last season.
“I’m not interested in comparing what was different, whether that may have been what we deem as being great, good or different,” Anderson said. “There are going to be differences when you take over a program and it’s important to put your own stamp on it.”