Penn State Football

‘I’m a quarterback’: Trace McSorley explains his anti-DB stance at Penn State Pro Day

McSorley knows he’s athletic but is focused on quarterback

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley talks about his experience at the NFL combine and Pro Day after throwing for scouts on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at Penn State's Holuba Hall.
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Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley talks about his experience at the NFL combine and Pro Day after throwing for scouts on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at Penn State's Holuba Hall.

Trace McSorley did not take part in defensive back drills Tuesday at Penn State’s Pro Day. In fact, while Amani Oruwariye and Nick Scott worked out for scouts, McSorley spoke with media about why he’s a quarterback — and a quarterback only — as the 2019 NFL draft approaches.

It may seem silly that McSorley — Penn State’s program record-holder in passing yards, touchdowns responsible for and wins — would need to convince people of his credentials. But at the NFL Combine earlier this month, McSorley was requested to work out as a defensive back. He declined.

“In my heart and in my mind, I’m a quarterback,” McSorley said after hitting his spots, intermediate and down the field, on Tuesday at Holuba Hall. “That’s where I’ve laid my groundwork. That’s what I did in high school. It’s what I did in college. That’s where I’ve put all the hard work behind the scenes that no one was able to see me do. I didn’t take it as a sign of disrespect, but it put a chip on my shoulder for sure.”

As if McSorley needed a bigger chip on his shoulder.

The under-sized quarterback’s journey to Penn State stardom is well-documented. Out of high school, he was lightly recruited as a quarterback; most schools wanted him to play safety. Instead, McSorley committed to Vanderbilt as a signal-caller, followed James Franklin to Happy Valley and racked up 9,653 passing yards, 75 touchdowns and Big Ten Championship MVP and Fiesta Bowl MVP honors as a three-year starter.

Even with that resume, McSorley wasn’t surprised by the DB request in Indianapolis. He didn’t hear safety interest from any organization he spoke with directly; McSorley was only approached by a scout who was relaying the request from a few teams. “As far as the conversations I’ve had with coaches and scouts, they believe I can play quarterback,” McSorley added.

His former teammates believe the same.

Wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins — who, along with Miles Sanders, Johnathan Thomas and East Stroudsburg hopeful Jylil Reeder, caught passes from McSorley at Pro Day — shook his head in disbelief when asked about the DB request. So did Scott and Koa Farmer.

Oruwariye and Shareef Miller, meanwhile, called it “disrespectful,” echoing what Saquon Barkley tweeted after the news broke in Indy.

“Trace is the hardest-working, most dedicated and smartest kid I know,” Oruwariye said. “He’s done nothing but excel, and I thought asking him to play DB, I thought it was disrespectful. All he does is prove people wrong, and he’s going to do it again.”

Added Miller: “I’m biased, but I think he’s the best quarterback in the draft. What he did at Penn State with winning drives, coming up in the clutch, the toughness, everything. ... That’s disrespectful. He’s a quarterback.”

As far as Miller’s “best quarterback in the draft” assessment, his bias is certainly showing. Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray might go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is a first-round lock, while Missouri’s Drew Lock and Duke’s Daniel Jones might sneak into the top-32 selections.

McSorley isn’t close to a first-round grade. He didn’t make Mel Kiper Jr.’s top-10 quarterback rankings, and has him pegged as the No. 14 signal-caller, behind Central Connecticut’s Jacob Dolegala, North Dakota State’s Easton Stick, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur and more. Most scouts project McSorley as second- or third-stringer in the league and a Day 3 pick.

The Penn State passer said it’s been “hard to gauge” where he might be selected in April. Falling back on a Franklin go-to, McSorley said, “The only thing I can focus on is on what I can control.” Among those “controllables,” as the coach likes to say, was McSorley’s on-field workout.

McSorley did not take part in the 40-yard dash Tuesday; after clocking a 4.57-second mark at the NFL Combine, the best time among quarterbacks, there was no sense in ruining one of his Combine highlights. Instead, McSorley found Sanders, Thomas and Reeder out of the backfield, hit Thompkins on hard curls and sideline comeback routes and connected with all four downfield.

McSorley and his mentor, Ken Mastrole — a former Maryland and NFL signal-caller — designed his script to show off a wide variety of throws.

“We wanted to push the ball out to the sidelines with some deep comebacks, pushing it down the field with some posts and gos. Wanted to show arm strength, getting it down the field,” McSorley explained. “And I tried to show off some accuracy, which is something I’ve continued to work on. We feel like we’ve improved on it, but I can keep going.

“It was a good day to show what makes me the player I am.”