Kevin Newsome took the shotgun snap, sidestepped a tackler and flicked a tight spiral downfield toward Curtis Drake. Drake had gotten open deep, with cornerback Evan Lewis scrambling to catch up. But the ball flew even deeper, landing well beyond Drake's reach for an incompletion.
That brief scene from Saturday's Blue-White Game was emblematic of Penn State's quarterback situation at the close of spring practice. You can see the raw potential. You can also see why the Nittany Lions are no closer to deciding on a starter than they were a month ago. This, clearly, is a work in progress.
Newsome completed 5 of 12 passes for 50 yards in the game, which was won by the Blue, 17-3. The sophomore wasn't intercepted, and he didn't do much running because the coaching staff didn't want any of its quarterbacks getting hurt.
“We've got a lot of work to do,” Newsome said after the game. “We've got to work on everything. Daryll [Clark] left here, and he taught me a lot. When I get out of [the media room], I'm going to call him, and I already know what he's going to say. He's going to say, 'Keep your head up and keep working.' ”
Pressed to give his performance a grade, Newsome chuckled. “I'd give it an 'LW,' ” he said. “Lotta work.”
Newsome's competitor for the starting spot, fellow sophomore Matt McGloin, went 10 of 23 for 100 yards. He threw two interceptions and was fortunate to avoid a third, as Chaz Powell dropped a pass that was thrown right at him, one he might well have returned for a defensive touchdown in the second quarter.
McGloin acknowledged after the game that the quarterbacks' performance was not as polished as they'd hoped, but he preferred to focus on the potential for improvement over the summer.
“You have to be confident in yourself that you have the ability to play for a school such as Penn State and you need to have the work ethic,” he said. “I think that's something I have, and I can continue to get better each and every day.”
The afternoon's only touchdown passes were by the player who is presumed to be third in the quarterback race. In the second quarter, freshman Paul Jones lofted a high, soft pass into the corner of the end zone and hit Shawney Kersey for an 18-yard touchdown on a fade route. In the fourth quarter, he did it again -same pattern, same receiver, same yardage.
Jones finished 5 of 8 for 67 yards. After the game, quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said Jones was working with a smaller play-calling repertoire because he has only been on campus since January. “It's a little bit easier for him to execute on a limited scope what he's got,” Paterno said. “The other guys had more stuff to deal with this spring.”
Before the game, Joe Paterno said he wasn't close to deciding on a starter, noting that neither Newsome nor McGloin had clearly established himself as a front-runner for the job. He said at one point late in his pregame news conference that the quarterbacks were “struggling a little bit.”
“I think we've made progress, I really do,” Paterno said. “But we're not there yet. We've got a long way to go.”
Paterno said Newsome had gotten better in a number of intangible areas. “I think his presence has improved,” he said. “He's much more aware of things. He's got more poise, and he's more accurate throwing the football.”
The latter has been the knock against Newsome, and Paterno alluded to continued difficulties when talking about the team's receivers, saying that in practice this spring, the passes weren't always delivered to spots where they could be easily caught.
Characteristically, Paterno downplayed Jones' impact on the quarterback position this spring. Jones enrolled in January in hope of competing for the starting spot, and Paterno said, “He's got talent.” But, he added that Penn State was focused in the spring on preparing the two leading contenders. “We're trying to establish what we're going to do with the two kids ahead of him,” he said.
And there's another complication. The ultimate decision might not hinge in part on how effectively Penn State addresses its other big concern on offense: the line, particularly the tackle spots. If the Lions can't protect the pocket, they'll need a quarterback who can get out of trouble. Newsome is clearly the better runner of the two. Said Paterno, “He could be a pretty good tailback.”
The Lions now have a little over four months to make their decision. By August, the Blue-White Game will be a distant memory, and that's as it should be say coaches and players alike. The spring game, with its simplified offensive schemes, vanilla defenses and down-by-contact rules, doesn't offer a real game day scenario and may not indicate the true abilities of the quarterbacks.
At the very least, it doesn't present a picture of where the quarterbacks will be when the season opens Sept. 4 against Youngstown State. Said McGloin, “We maybe didn't perform up to par today, maybe not up to what people expected to see. But tomorrow morning, Kevin and myself and the other quarterbacks are going to go into the film room, watch some things, take notes and try to get better.”