STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin rarely strays from his policy of addressing injuries, but when trying to describe Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford’s competitive nature the head coach couldn’t help himself.
“You guys know I don’t talk about injuries a whole lot, but since it’s over, he missed a lift in the weight room one day and punched the bench and broke his hand,” Franklin said this week of the Lions’ redshirt freshman quarterback. “This was months ago. Obviously that’s not what we want a quarterback to do and that was a great teaching moment, but he’s a very, very fiery competitor.”
For a program that has four core values plastered throughout the football building — with one of the four being ‘compete in everything you do’ — it’s safe to say Clifford is embracing his extra reps this spring. With backup quarterback Tommy Stevens sidelined with an undisclosed injury Clifford has gotten snaps as the second-team quarterback, all while Trace McSorley plays the role of starter and mentor this spring.
The “blessing in disguise” of Stevens’ injury, as Franklin put it, will likely pay dividends in August when the Lions are in camp and Clifford gets a chance to go in and show what he’s learned from the reps this spring. The additional film study that will come off his cut-ups of spring practice will give both Clifford and the staff a larger body of work to break down and learn from this summer.
“He’s been getting a bunch of reps in practice and he’s making mistakes, he’s learning from it,” Franklin said. “He’s very conscientious. He asks good questions and takes a lot of really good notes. Our defense does a lot and as you can imagine during camp and during spring ball it’s probably heavier than it even is in games because we’re installing all the things that we may run in the season and then as the season goes we’re kind of refining and honing in on who we’re going to be, but right now we’re installing every single day.”
While Penn State throws a lot of different looks at Clifford — Wednesday night was the first installation of three-down, which means changes in protections and blocking — he has McSorley, Stevens and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne to huddle with while working through some of these teachable moments.
Clifford and McSorley are always paired up during Penn State’s morning workouts and while McSorley said his practice reps haven’t been drastically reduced headed into his senior season, he has embraced the chance to bring along Clifford.
“He’s a really good athlete,” McSorley said. Franklin added that Clifford is a “better athlete than people probably give him credit for.”
“He’s got a strong arm and really what you kind of love about him is his competitiveness and how much he really wants to be successful,” McSorley said. “That’s the exciting thing about him is he’s hardworking, he’s diligent and he wants to be successful so bad that it drives everyone else to be successful and do everything they can around him.”