STATE COLLEGE — Penn State backup quarterback Steven Bench plans to transfer, a move that temporarily lessens the field for the starting job this fall.
Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday in a statement that Bench was granted a release to leave the program. He will finish the spring semester at Penn State.
Bench’s departure likely puts sophomore and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson atop the depth chart for now. Bench and Ferguson split first-team reps in spring practice, which wrapped up last weekend.
O’Brien had said he wouldn’t decide on a starter until August preseason camp, when prized freshman recruit Christian Hackenberg joins the competition. Bench didn’t see much playing time as a freshman last season backing up record-setting senior Matt McGloin.
The race between Bench and Ferguson was thought to be even. O’Brien planned to meet with players individually this week with spring drills done.
Something apparently didn’t sit well with Bench during his meeting.
“After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere. We want what is best for Steven,” O’Brien said in a statement. “I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him anyway we can.”
Bench declined comment to The Associated Press. He posted on Twitter that he had decided to leave “and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential.”
NCAA sanctions allow Nittany Lions to transfer until the start of training camp in August and play for another school without having to sit out a year.
Lions247.com, which covers Penn State football, first reported Bench’s departure.
Bench’s advantage over Ferguson was a year of familiarity with the playbook that O’Brien overhauled after coming from the New England Patriots.
Ferguson had an advantage of playing extensively last year at the junior college level. He threw for 2,614 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games in 2012 at the College of Sequoias in Visalia, Calif.
O’Brien also said that freshmen walk-ons Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook would compete for the starting job.
But Ferguson and Hackenberg presumably would get the first looks as the potential starter.
Whoever O’Brien selects for the Aug. 31 opener against Syracuse will be taking his first snap in major college football. The offense is otherwise loaded with veterans who played a year in O’Brien’s successful system, including Big Ten-leading receiver Allen Robinson; and a cadre of athletic tight ends paced by Kyle Carter.
Bench, of Bainbridge, Ga., signed at Penn State a year ago after decommiting from Rice.
Counting Bench, Penn State has had three quarterbacks transfer since last summer. Rob Bolden left in July for LSU, less than two months after O’Brien had declared McGloin the starter. McGloin mastered the complicated playbook to set the school season record for passing yardage (3,266) and tie the record for passing touchdowns in a season (24).
Another backup, Paul Jones, transferred in September after a failed experiment to move to tight end, leaving Bench as McGloin’s understudy. Jones has since landed at FCS school Robert Morris.
Also Wednesday, O’Brien said running back Zach Zwinak injured his left wrist in the Blue-White spring game last week but will be ready for the season opener. The 1,000-yard rusher left after the first series and sat on the bench with an ice pack on the wrist.