Penn Quakers
Dave Zeitlin

Penn will have tough choice to make at quarterback with 3 worthy candidates

As the three quarterbacks stood together in the middle of Franklin Field on Monday, the veteran of the group (Will Fischer-Colbrie) playfully rustled the hair of the freshman (Ryan Glover) as the transfer (Nick Robinson) looked on and smiled.

The QB battle may be the big focus of the 2017 Penn football team’s preseason camp, but it’s clear it’s been an enjoyable one for those involved.

“We talked before camp it’s going to be a competition but that doesn’t mean we’re not teammates, that doesn’t mean we all don’t have the same goal in mind,” Fischer-Colbrie said from Penn’s media day Monday. “Of course it’s friendly. We’re all having a great time.”

Whichever players wins the job will have big shoes to fill after Alek Torgersen started the last three seasons at quarterback, leading the Quakers to a piece of the 2015 and 2016 Ivy League championships while setting program records in touchdown throws (52) and completion percentage (65.1).

Torgersen is now with the Atlanta Falcons, hoping to make it in the NFL as a third-string quarterback, while the Quakers are left without anyone who’s ever taken a snap for them.

But with that uncertainty also comes a bit of anticipation and excitement.

“The nice part of it is all three quarterbacks have done a tremendous job,” said Penn head coach Ray Priore, who hopes to unveil the starter by the end of the week ahead of the Quakers’ opener on Sept. 16. “It’s truly an open competition.”

All three have interesting pedigrees. Fischer-Colbrie, a California native, spent the last two seasons at Penn without seeing any action after transferring from the University of Colorado. Robinson also is originally from California by way of a big-time program, transferring from the University of Georgia. And Glover, a highly touted recruit from Atlanta, is vying to become a rare true freshman starter at quarterback. (Sophomore Tyler Herrick was also competing for the job at the start of camp but was since moved to receiver, and Michael Collins transferred to TCU in May).

For offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach John Reagan, all of them do certain things well enough to fit into his system and perhaps evolve in the same way Torgersen did when he learned a new offense two years ago when Reagan was hired.

“Evolve is the perfect word for it,” he said. “It’s evolving. All three guys are competing and doing a heck of a job. I think we’re excited about the position. All of them have really developed in their own way and we feel really good about where we are right now.”

Easing the transition is the fact that they get to throw the football to Justin Watson, a senior All-American and perhaps the best wide receiver in Penn’s storied history. Watson, who developed a close rapport with Torgersen, even stuck around Philly this summer (passing up a big internship opportunity in New York City) to work out with all three of them before the pads come on. 

And he was impressed with what he saw.

“I’m just really glad I don’t have to make the decision because it looks like a really tough one so far,” said Watson, who ranks second at Penn in all-time receptions and receiving yards. “We’ve got two upperclassmen who look really good in Robinson and Fischer-Colbrie and a freshman comes in, Ryan Glover, who has a cannon for an arm. … All three guys look like really good leaders and everyone is behind those three guys.”

The quarterbacks were equally effusive in their praise toward Watson, who is known at Penn for his work ethic as much as his enormous talent.

“It’s awesome,” Fischer-Colbrie said. “It makes it a lot of fun. When he’s doing all the work he’s doing, he makes you look real good. I know each of us has reaped the benefits of what he’s doing on the outside.”

“I think he’s a great leader and an awesome player,” added Glover, who admits he’s needed to catch up on a lot during the first couple of weeks of his first college season. 

And in addition to Watson, the freshman has also leaned on his two fellow quarterbacks.

“During practice, I’ll probably ask maybe 50 questions a day,” Glover said. “They’ve done a good job helping me out and helping me understand the playbook.”

That kind of trust and helpfulness, even in the heat of a positional battle, is something Priore has preached since taking over as Penn’s coach before the 2015 season. 

It’s also just one more element that will make his QB decision even tougher.

“Sometimes it’s easier when guys aren’t performing well,” Priore said. “Right now those three guys are doing it. I don’t think we’ll miss a beat there.”