Ta'Quan Roberson 'opened eyes' in camp, primed for QB2 role

Less than 24 hours after his program announced it would not produce public depth charts during the 2021 college football season, Penn State head coach James Franklin didn't quite publicly name a backup quarterback during his Tuesday press conference. However, he didn't leave much to be lost in translation.

"I sit in the quarterback meetings every single day," Franklin said. "One guy (Sean Clifford) is taking 90 percent of the reps with the ones, Ta'Quan is taking 90 percent of the reps with the twos, and Christian is taking 90 percent of the reps with the threes. So everybody clearly understood understands where they're at, and where they stand."

Third-year Penn State player Ta'Quan Roberson beating out true freshman Christian Veilleux for the primary backup job has long been the anticipated outcome. But when presented multiple opportunities to make that statement during recent months, Franklin and first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich declined.

"One of the things I think is really challenging across the board, and specifically at the quarterback position, is you must train and prepare as if you're the starter," Franklin said in July. "Very few people have the discipline to do it, and if you do, when your time comes, the likelihood is you'll be ready. Whether it's Christian Veilleux, or whether it's Ta'Quan Roberson, or whether it's any of the other guys at that position, can you honestly look yourself in the mirror and say, 'I'm preparing and training so when the time comes, I will be ready.'"

Following the arrival of Yurcich and the exit of Will Levis — now the starter at Kentucky after spending two seasons as Penn State's QB2 — Roberson recognized it was time to look in that proverbial mirror.

"It's been about pushing everything else aside and focusing on the main goal," Roberson said at the start of preseason camp. "That main goal is to do everything I possibly can to help this team win. That meant coming into the building more times than I ever had in past years, keeping my head down, and grinding on the playbook."

During the month of August, the 5-foot-11, 197-pound passer delivered an accumulated performance that drew a level of praise from Franklin that, to this point, we had not heard regarding Roberson from any Nittany Lions coach since 2019 enrollment.

"He's done some really nice things," Franklin said. "He's thrown for a high percentage. For a while there, his attempts without an interception was ridiculously high. He had thrown a bunch of balls without without turning the ball over. The ball jumps off his hand."

A third-year freshman due to his 2019 redshirt and the NCAA's 2020 eligibility pause, Roberson graduated early from DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.) High School and enrolled alongside fellow composite four-star quarterback prospect Michael Johnson Jr. They were preceded by Levis in 2018, then followed to campus by 2020 signee Micah Bowens.

Among that group, only Roberson remains on the roster. He has trained under the supervision of a new offensive coordinator each year.

"It is a process," Yurcich said regarding work with PSU's inexperienced quarterbacks. "What we talked about there is, okay, it's a good day, and then tomorrow is a not-so-good day, and then the next day a good day. I would like to see us stack a couple good days. Let's have a good day, then let's have a good day. Let's stack those good days, let's get some momentum and have some consistency there. Stop making little silly mistakes, whether it's forgetting a motion or not communicating with the offensive line — silly little things. Those things are very controllable. It's not throwing a ball to a spot. It's not the physical with these guys right now. It's the mental part of it."

Franklin acknowledged Roberson requires continued refinement in that area.

"When he's confident pre-snap with what to do, he's very effective post-snap," Franklin said. "It's getting him consistently really confident pre-snap with what we're trying to do, and why, and how. I think he's opened a lot of eyes this camp. ... We'd love to get him some reps where we can. Meaningful reps in games."

Roberson last threw a pass in live action during the 2019 regular-season finale versus Rutgers. His last completion occurred in high school.

Equipped with 31 months of life as a Nittany Lion, including a freshman campaign in which he traveled as the No. 3 QB, Roberson held an advantage over Veilleux, who was set back by a senior season cancellation last fall. The 6-foot-4 Veilleux remains an intriguing option and seemingly carries a higher long-term ceiling than Roberson, but any other depth chart result would've been a substantial surprise.

Those are the only two scholarship quarterbacks on this Penn State roster behind Clifford, who will make his 21st college start on Saturday.

"Right now, he's the only QB with experience so me and the other guys in the room are just learning from him and asking him questions, day in and day out," Roberson said. "Coming in to watch tape with him, and just understanding what we can do to maximize our opportunity when the time comes."

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