This spring has already proven to be full of plenty of new experiences for Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens. Beyond telling teammates he’s staying put, the Nittany Lions’ quarterback of the future and “Lion” of the present is working through spring practice with a different focus.
Seated on a scooter with his right foot in a boot, Stevens is dealing with an undisclosed injury that has presented him with an opportunity to step away from the hand’s-on aspect of the position. With a clipboard in his lap, the backup quarterback is using this spring to sharpen the mental side of his game.
“Mentally, I think he’s done a really good job of being locked in, of asking a lot of questions, kind of developing in those areas,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We all need to develop in those areas. I’ve been doing this for 24 years and I learn something every single day I come out on the field and that doesn’t even count my playing experience. So, I think we’re doing a better job as a team of practicing championship habits and how we prepare and how we meet every single day.”
Franklin said he shared with the team reports received from Penn State’s NFL Scouting Combine participants. Besides the lofty testing results, the players were also being praised for their football IQ and their comfort level in meeting rooms. Franklin used that as an example to injured players such as Stevens, telling them that even when they’re not physically taking reps, there are still plenty of reasons to be engaged and much to gain from taking mental reps.
That’s something Saquon Barkley prided himself on last season, especially last spring when he didn’t need to and didn’t take many practice reps. He still needed to find another way to stay sharp and would line up behind the running backs, almost coaching them through the play.
With quarterback Sean Clifford taking those No. 2 reps that otherwise would go to Stevens, the versatile athlete is talking with offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, communicating between plays with No. 1 QB Trace McSorley and putting pen to paper.
“It’s good. I need it. I think that’s where I need to grow the most still, mentally,” Stevens said. “I’ve taken strides, big strides since I’ve gotten here, but actually being able to step away and see it from another perspective, it’s different, but it’s challenging me in a different way.”