The piece on Bench leaving Penn State in today’s paper was by necessity short and basic. That’s not a complaint; space was at a premium, that’s just how it goes sometimes.
But there’s a lot more I want to say about the situation and what it shows us about Bill O’Brien. That’s what blogs are for.
At one of the Friday-night get-togethers on the road last year, somebody asked O’Brien to describe what he looks for in a quarterback, and he launched into an amazing spiel. A quarterback has to be the smartest guy in the room, and the most knowledgable, and the hardest-working.
He has to know that every minute he’s on the field, in practice and in games, there are eyes on him. Everything he says, verbally or through body language, registers. Quarterbacks are different, are perceived differently, than everyone else on a football team, and the ideal quarterback not only gets that, in all the ways it manifests itself, but welcomes it.
It wasn’t a prepared speech, of course, just a bunch of guys sitting around with beers. But O’Brien was, I believe, speaking from specific memory. I believe he was describing Tom Brady.
Every year he’s at Penn State, I believe, O’Brien will try to find his Brady, not so much in terms of talent and skill (although that would, of course, be ideal) but in terms of the intangibles he spoke of, and in terms of replicating the kind of relationship he had with Brady as the New England Patriots’ QB coach and offensive coordinator. There can only be one Brady at a time, of course, which is one reason why a two-QB system is something O’Brien can barely bring himself to discuss.
Matt McGloin turned himself into that guy last year. Asked in a post-game presser when he knew it, O’Brien immediately mentioned a QB-room session, long before the season started, in which O’Brien named a play and asked McGloin to go the board and diagram it. McGloin did it, as quickly as if he was signing his own name, and could not only draw it but get inside it, and describe not only his role in the play but the role of the other 10 players.
Tyler Ferguson may not have even been ahead of Bench, in any tangible way. But I’m hearing that Ferguson has worked as if obsessed since he got to Penn State in January. He’s probably not O’Brien’s next Tom Brady yet, but he’s made it clearer than ever that Bench would never be. As Neil Rudel pointed out in a smart column today, O’Brien didn’t play Bench last year at times, in the dregs of blowout wins, when getting McGloin out just for his health seemed an obvious move.
Most college coaches would probably have kept Bench, as insurance or as a player he hasn’t seen enough to write off. But that would mean a third guy (with Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg) getting practice snaps in August, complicating things, blurring the big-picture.
Further, O’Brien may believe one of his two freshman walk-ons, D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple, can be at least 85-90 percent of Steven Bench and save him a precious scholarship.
Yes, we’re back to the NCAA sanctions. They’ve forced O’Brien to manage his roster like an NFL coach. Cut and run. Decide and move on. Travel lean and fast. He is, even without the sanctions, just by nature, incredibly, startlingly confident and decisive. Time will tell if another adjective – impulsive – should be thrown in there.