Last week, we took a look at the loaded quarterback room at Penn State and how there could be a quarterback competition going into 2019. The Nittany Lions’ quarterback situation took another turn this week when we learned that Tommy Stevens would miss the Citrus Bowl after getting surgery for an unspecified injury.
We knew prior to the season that Stevens had a lower-body injury, an injury that limited him for much of spring camp and caused Stevens to miss time over the summer. As a result, Stevens was not active until the fourth game of 2018 and did not see on-field action until the Ohio State game one week later.
What we do not know is whether this injury is the same one that plagued Stevens earlier in the season or if it is an entirely new injury that he is getting surgery on. We also don’t know how long the recovery will be and whether it will prevent Stevens from participating in spring and summer camps.
Stevens missing time opened the door for redshirt freshman Sean Clifford to get second-team reps going into the 2018 season. Reps that proved valuable to Clifford – he looked very good in his limited action this year.
With Stevens poised to miss time again and Trace McSorley graduating after the Citrus Bowl, the door is open for Clifford to get first-team reps this spring and summer. He will also serve as the backup quarterback in the Citrus Bowl.
Stevens has many invaluable intangibles, such as his size and running ability, but he is mostly unknown as a passer. Spring and summer camp would be big for Stevens to develop as a passer and give the coaching staff trust in him as a quarterback, but now much of that could be in jeopardy.
If Clifford does get first team reps and performs well enough it may even be enough for Penn State to give the keys to the offense to Clifford – though this is highly unlikely after what Stevens has done for the program. Clifford will be a redshirt sophomore next year and, if things go well, he could lead the charge for three years, just like Trace McSorley.
The other talented young quarterbacks will also get an opportunity to show the coaching staff their abilities this spring. Will Levis, a redshirt freshman next year, will likely play with the second team offense. Recruits Michael Johnson Jr. and Taquan Roberson should get some looks as well.
Going into the summer, if healthy, the starting quarterback job will still be Stevens’ to lose. Head coach James Franklin has shown he will reward loyal players and it seems likely that Stevens’ loyalty to the program, when he could have transferred, will be rewarded.
Though, the more time Stevens misses – and the more opportunities Clifford gets – could begin to open the window for Clifford to overtake Stevens as the starter going into 2019.
For now you can mark Stevens in as the starter in pencil, not pen. The more time he misses, and the more opportunities Clifford gets, don’t be surprised if Franklin has to make a very tough decision this upcoming August.
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