Now that Penn State has completed its first spring practice under new head coach Bill O'Brien, the evaluation of the players who were inherited from Joe Paterno's final team can proceed.
O'Brien had to like some of what he saw in Saturday's Blue-White game. Converted wide receiver Bill Belton performed well at running back. Wide receiver Allen Robinson caught two passes that went for big gains. Jordan Hill showed again that he's "one of the better inside defensive tackles I've been around," according to the coach.
But the uncertain quarterback situation, a staple of Paterno's last two seasons, remains. O'Brien didn't see any separation among the three players vying to be the starter during the spring, and that probably held true Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
O'Brien indicated that he'd like to get down to at least two candidates in time for the start of the preseason. If he's judging by what he saw Saturday, senior Matt McGloin and sophomore Paul Jones could be that pair, with junior Rob Bolden possibly the odd man out.
McGloin, the incumbent, completed 6 of 13 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown with a long gain of 41 yards to Robinson. Jones, who sat out his first two seasons as a redshirt and because of academics, struggled with his touch and hit just 6 of 15 but for a team-high 113 yards that included plays of 41 and 30 yards. Each player threw an interception.
As for Bolden, he went 7 of 14 for 78 yards (long gain of 37) but threw three interceptions and seemed to freeze in the pocket as he was trying to find an open receiver.
O'Brien talked about needing to study film before making any decisions on how to rank the quarterbacks, but he reiterated how difficult they have had it learning a new offense.
"We've asked a lot of them," he said. "We've asked them to learn a system that's totally different from anything they've ever learned, and that takes time. . . . So we have to let it soak in a little bit, let it soak for ourselves as a staff. We'll make a decision headed into training camp on who we're going with or who the top two are."
O'Brien said he used only 10 percent of his offense Saturday. Asked about the other 90 percent, McGloin smiled broadly.
"It's exciting, to be honest with you," he said. "We have a lot of different things, a lot of different plays, a lot of formations, a lot of routes."
The tight ends, expected to be a big part of O'Brien's offense, stood out even if the pass plays called to them were limited. Jesse James, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound freshman who enrolled in January, caught two balls for 25 yards. In all, tight ends accounted for six of the game's 23 completions.
"We'll spread the ball to the tight ends, the receivers, the backs, and hopefully it will be very balanced," said O'Brien, the New England Patriots' former offensive coordinator. "The tight ends will be a big part of what we're doing, and we'll keep developing them in training camp."
Heading into the summer, the quarterbacks will focus on learning the playbook. McGloin said the new offense means added responsibilities, including the ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage, something he said he did "maybe less than five times" last season.
"The quarterback is in total control," he said. "It's our job to get into the right play. . . . We might have two or three plays called before we break the huddle, so it's our job to get us into the right play, know what the defense is doing, and make sure everybody is in the right spots."
Drake's move. Former West Catholic star Curtis Drake, who had battled a shin injury during spring practice, played a few plays at his new position - cornerback - where he moved from wide receiver.
"He's a guy that's got to continue to step up," defensive coordinator Ted Roof said, "and continue to work to get better because he's not where we need him to be. But none of us are. None of us are where we need to be. But he's worked hard, and I'm looking forward to having a productive summer with him."
New foe. Penn State will host Massachusetts on Sept. 20, 2014, as part of a one-game scheduling agreement that UMass announced.
The deal is part of a number of games against traditional powers that UMass has scheduled in future seasons as it moves to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Penn State coach O'Brien is a Massachusetts native and spent the last five seasons with the Patriots.
The Nittany Lions also will play Temple, Akron, and Rutgers in nonconference games in 2014.