Spring primer: QBs, injuries & more

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- While Bill O'Brien's voice carried over the field Monday afternoon, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher directed his players in a calmer manner.

During position drills at Penn State's first spring practice, Fisher stood about five yards in front of his four quarterbacks as they took turns taking three- and five-step drops. The quartet of red jerseys would look at Fisher, quickly scan the field and then throw to a stationary receiver.

"Eyes here," Fisher told sophomore Steven Bench in a conversational tone, pointing to his his right. "Work through it, work through it."

Bench or Tyler Ferguson could wind up as the starting quarterback come Aug. 31, and Monday offered a glimpse of the two signal-callers. Media were invited to attend 20 minutes of open practice, and O'Brien began by calling together a competition: A defensive back would line up against a wideout or tight end in press coverage, while Bench and Ferguson would alternate snaps.

The first team -- offense or defense -- to win three battles would be declared the winner. The losers would be forced to perform five hit-its. It was more for honor than anything and only four passes were thrown while the quarterbacks tried to shake off the rust.

Bench began by just overthrowing Allen Robinson on a roughly 35-yard pass, and Ferguson then hit Jesse James in stride downfield on an over-the-shoulder grab. Bench followed that up by throwing behind his target on cross route, and Ferguson barely overthrew Matt Lehman for two straight incompletions.

The offense, along with Ferguson and Bench, then hit the turf for their hit-its while the defense cheered.

"They're both athletic, they both can throw the football," O'Brien said during a Monday news conference. "Now it's going to depend on how well they make decisions and how accurately they throw the ball.

"They sit in the front row, they pay attention, they take a lot of notes. It's a fun group to be around."

Position changes: O'Brien said there were three main changes: Tight end Garry Gilliam moved to offensive tackle and now weighs 290 pounds, wideout Malik Golden is listed as a defensive back, and offensive tackle Nate Cadogan is now at DT.

According to O'Brien, Golden could play on both sides of the ball. He might spend seven or eight spring practices with the defense and then move over to offense. The same could be said of Cadogan.

"If we think a guy can help us on defense and maybe still play offense because of the numbers we have, we'll still certainly look at that," O'Brien said.

Injury report: Early enrollee Adam Breneman will be "full-go" this spring but will be closely monitored after an ACL tear last year ... Linebacker Ben Kline will miss the spring due to offseason shoulder surgery ... Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and tight end Kyle Carter will not perform in contact drills ... Linebacker Nyeem Wartman is now back to 100 percent and will practice with the first team.

Offensive line: According to O'Brien, Ty Howle will be the starting center heading into the spring. Despite what the roster might say, Miles Dieffenbach will stay at guard. So, Howle's main competition will come from Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent.

That means John Urschel and Dieffenbach will be the starting guards, while Donovan Smith and Adam Gress will start at the tackle positions.

Competitive running backs: After an effective 1,000-yard rushing season, Zach Zwinak will return as the starter -- but O'Brien wouldn't share much more than that.

"I'd love to be able to tell you exactly what I want to do with the running backs," O"Brien said. "But that would be awfully stupid of me to do that."

As the tailbacks rotated in and out to take handoffs from the quarterback during practice, the order might have been indicative of where they stood on the depth chart. Zwinak took the first handoff, followed by Bill Belton, then Akeel Lynch, Deron Thompson and Jack Haffner.

Early enrollee Richy Anderson will play mostly slot receiver but could also play some tailback, O'Brien said. He practiced with the wideouts.

Linebacker depth: O'Brien didn't mince words when it came to linebacker.

"We don't have a lot of depth at linebacker," he said. "That's for sure."

With Kline's injury, Penn State will start Mike Hull, Glenn Carson and Nyeem Wartman this spring. Gary Wooten will also likely see a lot of time, while two freshman linebackers -- Zayd Issah and Brandon Bell -- will join Kline over the summer.