Penn State took an aggressive look for quarterbacks in the NCAA Transfer Portal but didn't find a fit, coach James Franklin said, leaving the team with three scholarship quarterbacks entering the season.
But with starter Sean Clifford's injury status looming over the season's second half, Franklin was asked this week to revisit his portal tour for a quarterback. Franklin remained firm that Penn State did all it could.
"I don’t see how we could have been more aggressive," Franklin said at his weekly news conference. "We were thorough and we evaluated every single guy that was out there. We had some guys come in and actually work out by the rules, and I think you guys heard me say a year ago that we were committed to doing it if we found the right situation and it made sense. But just to sign a guy to sign a guy, we actually think that would have been detrimental."
Clifford's injury status will dictate what No. 7 Penn State can expect from the season's second half, particularly considering the depth of experience behind him. Franklin said this week that quarterbacks Ta'Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux would split practice reps, and the staff would determine its starter later this week.
Yet even before the season, Franklin and his staff sought to find more competition at the position. Penn State has just three scholarship quarterbacks, a rarity for Franklin, who prefers to roster at least four at a time. The coach knew depth would be an issue, particularly if Clifford were injured.
Now, Penn State is racing to get Roberson and Veilleux ready for Saturday's game against Illinois. The Lions also face the prospect of playing at Ohio State on Oct. 30 without Clifford.
Still, Franklin said this week, the transfer portal delivered no viable options. Penn State brought in several quarterbacks for visits and workouts, including junior college standouts Michael Hiers from Northwest Mississippi and Nate Glantz from Iowa Western. Ultimately, Penn State did not sign a transfer quarterback.
"There's no way to get them all reps and then develop them, so for us, we did everything we possibly could," Franklin said.
Penn State has been successful recently cultivating transfers, finding five starters for the 2021 team. Defensive linemen Arnold Ebiketie (Temple) and Derrick Tangelo (Duke) are first-year players, while safeties Jaquan Brisker and Ji'Ayir Brown came to the program the past few years from Lackawanna College. Brisker was named to the AP Midseason All-America Team.
In addition, guard Eric Wilson (Harvard) has started five games, and cornerback AJ Lytton (Florida State) has been effective as a special teams gunner. Transfers John Lovett (Baylor), Johnny Dixon (South Carolina) and Winston Eubanks (Shippensburg) have played this season as well.
"We’ve shown the guys we’ve brought in here have all done a nice job for us and have all been really good fits for Penn State and are playing pretty well for us, so I think our process is good and it’s thorough," Franklin said. "But obviously looking back at [the quarterback situation], I understand the question."
Franklin has been wary of the transfer portal since its inception, referring to it almost as a necessary evil of college sports. This week, Franklin said that one potential transfer player (not a quarterback) with whom Penn State had contact wanted a starting spot guaranteed.
Franklin said he would not make that deal.
"Whether it's with high school recruits or transfers, I’m not in the business of making promises," he said. "I think that’s recruiting talk. ... It's like recruiting a kid out of high school and telling him he’s going to play as a true freshman. I don’t think that's the right thing to do for your program, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for the kid, setting up unrealistic expectations. What happens if they get here and they’re not ready, but you’ve already kind of made that decision and already made that promise?
"So we try to underpromise and overdeliver as much as we possibly can. It probably goes against some people’s recruiting models, but I’d rather be upfront and transparent about it, in terms of playing times and things like that, than the opposite."