Tommy Stevens sits atop the depth chart.
James Franklin confirmed that back in February. If he's still there come August is yet to be seen. But right now, he's James Franklin's guy. A fiercely loyal, do-it-all, fifth-year senior, first-time starter. There are a lot of questions surrounding Tommy Stevens. His health issues and questions about his accuracy are quick to bubble up. While those are warranted concerns, I think those worries will be put to rest early and Tommy Stevens will prove to be every as bit as good as we all hope he can be.
Let's start by addressing those pesky injuries. Tommy Stevens has been asked to wear more hats than any Penn State player in recent memory. He's played the role of all-purpose player more than quarterback throughout his time in Happy Valley. As he shifts away from that role and into one of the most-protected positions in all of sports, he will be out of harm's way far more often than ever before. When he does take shots, they will be far different than the one he's been subjected to in the past. You obviously can still get hurt playing quarterback but by taking himself out of the most dangerous situations, Stevens is setting himself for a healthy 2019 campaign.
Now let's dive into concerns about his passing ability. If we're being honest, only the coaches truly know what kind of passer he is. I don't think anyone can say what he is one way or another, after seeing him throw just 41 passes in three years, with many of those coming after the game had long been decided. What I will say is that the highs have been higher than the lows have been low.
I mean, how are you not impressed by this throw? Stevens hangs in the pocket, knowing he's going to take a big hit and still is able to deliver a strike. That kind of awareness and natural talent is something you cannot teach. His arm strength will never be in question, but being able to throw deep ball this accurately could lead to some 2016-esque plays.
Here Stevens delivers a great touch throw to Freiermuth along the sideline. He goes through his reads, finds his man, and puts it right into his breadbasket. It's a simple play, but Stevens shows off some good patience, waiting for the play to develop and not forcing anything. These are the kind of throws he's going to make more often than the deep ball, so it's a comfort to see he's beyond capable of making them.
Today more than ever, quarterbacks have to be able to run. Thankfully, there is no concern about Stevens' ability in that department. He moves very well for someone his size and is able to use that height to fight for extra yards when the opportunity presents itself. His most endearing quality as a runner is his indifference to either running over someone or running around them. He trusts his instincts and it's worked out for him more than it hasn't so far. We all know how much Trace McSorley had to run this season. With expected improvements in the receiving game, Stevens will not have to do that nearly as much, leading to some much more efficient ball carrying.
It's easy to be wary of a first-year starter. There's so much unknown each time a team has to go through change at that position. Thankfully, the moniker first-year starter doesn't mean what it used to. Each of the top six teams in the final AP Poll were led by a first-year starter. I'm well aware that some of those quarterbacks were transcendent talents and former five-star prospects (Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa), but Stevens does not have to be them.
Penn State is built to follow the layout that worked for Notre Dame with Ian Book or LSU with Joe Burrow; surround a pretty-good quarterback with top-notch talent and let the chips fall as they may. Stevens is far less of an unknown than those players were heading into their first season as starters. He's been with the program far longer than Book or Burrow had been with theirs when they got handed the reigns. That level of comfort will go a long way.
Stevens has waited a long time for this opportunity. In the era of the transfer portal, a quarterback sticking around for four years when he could certainly start elsewhere is going to become rarer and rarer. Everyone around the program has long raved Stevens' competitiveness and his team-first mentality. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that's a trait all great quarterbacks have.
The groundwork has been laid. This season is his chance to show that these past four years have been worth the wait.