Penn State QB race begins



Penn State quarterbacks Pat Devlin, left, and Daryll Clark toss the ball back and forth during football practice in State College, Pa., on Saturday. Devlin, Clark and Paul Cianciolo are competing to start under center for the Nittany Lions this fall. Carolyn Kaster, The Associated Press

By Genaro C. Armas

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Hands on knees, Joe Paterno surveyed Penn State practice from his perch 30 yards behind the secondary. He was looking straight at the offense when a pass got broken up.

“Quarterback made a wrong read there,” Paterno yelled twice in his familiar shrill voice.

From the head coach to the blue and white faithful, the competition to take over as Nittany Lions starting quarterback is being watched closely in spring practice.

Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin are the top candidates to replace departed two-year starter Anthony Morelli. Paterno has insisted that Paul Cianciolo, who did not get into a game last year, was in the mix, too.

“I don’t have to make that decision. Why should I make it?” Paterno said in response to a question about the quarterback race after a recent practice. “All I want to do is make everybody out there as good as I can be.”

Fair enough, Joe. The season opener against Coastal Carolina is still five months away.

Yet, after the topic of Paterno’s contract, the quarterback question has been front and center in Happy Valley ever since the Alamo Bowl win in December over Texas A&M;, Morelli’s final college game.

A drop-back passer with a strong arm, Morelli compiled gaudy statistics and two bowl wins in his two seasons leading the offense. But he had trouble at times in the clutch, especially in Big Ten games, and he wasn’t a fan favorite.

So the athletic Clark intrigued the Nittany Lions’ ardent fans when he rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on six carries as a change-of-pace-type quarterback against the Aggies in the most meaningful playing time of his college career.

Paterno said his son and quarterbacks coach, Jay Paterno, wanted to play Clark more last season, “and I tied his hands. I blame myself for that.”

Clark, who will be a senior this fall, has an edge in experience over Devlin, who will be a redshirt sophomore. A Downingtown East graduate, Devlin holds an impressive credential on his resume – Pennsylvania’s high school career passing leader.

With Morelli gone, Penn State has dusted off some option and read plays that the offense successfully employed in the 2005 season with dual-threat QB Michael Robinson at the helm. Just running through some of the old plays that helped the Nittany Lions finish 11-1 in ’05 excited receiver Deon Butler.

It should make for some busy practice sessions for the defense, too. Double-threat quarterbacks are the hardest to prepare for, defensive back Lydell Sargeant said.

Moving to such a scheme might give the starting edge for this year’s team to Clark, who is described as more of an option quarterback. Butler, though, cautioned that Devlin’s agility shouldn’t be underestimated.

“He’s a mobile quarterback who you can get out on the edge and you can run the option with him and he can be a threat,” said Butler, who has a team-leading 15 TD catches over the last three seasons. “Maybe not take it to the distance, but he’s more than capable of running the option.”

There’s one other scenario Paterno could consider – could Penn State turn to a two-QB system?

“Maybe three, I don’t know,” he said with exasperation.