Bill O'Brien has wrapped up his first Coaches Caravan, and he's ready to answer the question he got from fans and media at every stop.
Is Paul Jones ready to be the full-time guy?
Well, almost ready.
O'Brien told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week that he would have the starting quarterback named by the end of the month. He told ESPN.com a couple of days later that the decision would be announced sometime in early June. Either way, Penn State's head coach is sticking to what he told me and other reporters during the initial stops of the caravan -- he will wait to discuss the decision with the rest of the staff before making any official statement.
But O'Brien does want to enter preseason camp with a clear-cut pecking order at the most important position in the lineup, which means two things: 1) He soon won't have to listen to the question anymore and, more importantly, 2) The days of Penn State's mid-quarter quarterback shuffle should be at an end.
O'Brien is going to design the offense around his personnel. He's going to call the plays in that offense. Charlie Fisher will work with the quarterbacks, but O'Brien will be the guy who is ultimately accountable for whatever happens when Penn State has the football. He'll need a guy he can trust with the ball in his hands on every snap, and he wants that player to know he has that trust as soon as possible.
The Nittany Lions' quarterbacks have to love it. Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden were, for the most part, diplomatic about the constant series-to-series rotation they went through last season, when Penn State finished last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and next-to-last in scoring offense, but it was evident that neither really enjoyed the system (nor, according to various sources, did the majority of the rest of the team).
How much McGloin or Bolden will love the "starter plays" system if, say, Paul Jones emerges as that guy remains to be seen, but you'd think they would like to know where they stand heading into any given game.
O'Brien sounded pretty confident that he knew what he was going to do with the position two weeks ago and, so far, does not seem like a guy who does a lot of second-guessing. His decision -- which, again, will need to be ratified or at least presented to the rest of the coaches before we hear anything official -- likely came down to a simple choice.
Do you go with the known commodity (McGloin) or the tantalizing but unproven and unfinished product (Jones)?
McGloin has the most game experience of any quarterback on the roster, and according to sources, was the most consistent of the three players during the spring. Ironically, it was his inconsistent play -- especially against marquee opponents -- during the past few seasons that has Penn State fans worried that he might be the guy again. O'Brien and Fisher have worked on McGloin's footwork and mechanics, but will they be able to correct his tendency to make ill-advised throws into traffic?
Jones is the shiny new muscle car that hasn't been driven on the highway yet. His play during the Blue-White Game suggested that, over a long enough timeline, he's very likely to make more spectacular plays than McGloin or Bolden, but will he be able to make enough of the unspectacular, routine plays to keep the chains moving and the offense on the field?
If McGloin is the guy and struggles, Jones could change the dimensions of the field and provide a big-play spark off the bench. If Jones is the guy and struggles, McGloin has plenty of practice with entering the game and rallying the offense after spending long periods on the sideline.
What's certain is that, this season, there will be one guy calling the plays for Penn State. And there will be one quarterback setting those plays in motion. We'll have most of the summer to debate the choice. But the fact that O'Brien is about to make it or may have already made it might be the new coach's best play call yet.
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