Press Conference Quick Hitters

For the first time since Penn State's 2004 season ended on Nov. 20, Joe Paterno conducted a press conference Wednesday to outline spring practice, which begins Monday.

Paterno praised the team's winter workouts and said he's "optimistic" entering his 40th season as the Lions' head coach. He appeared refreshed, upbeat and eager to get on with the challenge of rebounding from last year's 4-7 record.

THE BURNING ISSUE: Paterno said senior Michael Robinson will play quarterback. Though he didn't rule out sophomore Anthony Morelli or redshirt freshman Paul Cianciolo, he doesn't see Robinson playing other positions like he has the last two years.

"Right now Michael, obviously, would be in the lead at quarterback, but I don't think anybody has a locked-in position,” Paterno said. “The best way we can have the most beneficial spring practice is to just have everyone in there competing. Anthony Morelli and Paul Cianciolo have really worked hard. Kevin Suhey, who just came in January, has promise. I think we are just going to go at it and go out and have a little fun this spring and see what happens."

Paterno said he doubts Morelli, who played sparingly yet still burned a year of eligibility last season, would redshirt.

"I think Morelli is too good to sit on the bench all of the football game," Paterno said. "I think he is going to give Michael Robinson a real run for his money."

OFFENSIVE CUES: Paterno called this year's recruiting class "probably the fastest we've ever brought in," and he's counting on some true freshmen, most notably WR Derrick Williams, to inject speed into an offense that ranked 105th out of 117 Division I-A teams last year.

"We have not had a kid catch a 6-yard hitch and make somebody miss and run for a 50-yard gain," Paterno said. "We just haven't had those kinds of things since we lost Bryant Johnson in that class two years ago. We have got to be optimistic that the kids we brought in and the kids we have made switches with are going to give us a chance to make some big plays."

OFFENSIVE REINFORCEMENTS: DBs Jim Kanuch, Deon Butler and Ethan Kilmer have been moved to receiver for depth. Kanuch and Kilmer have played on special teams. Butler is "a very, very quick kid," Paterno said.

JURISPRUDENCE: Paterno is taking a wait-and-see attitude on G Tyler Reed and DT Scott Paxson. The two face summary charges on criminal mischief for shooting arrows into a dormitory wall with a compound bow on Jan. 29. Both were starters last year. Paterno said he'll first see whether the university issues disciplinary action.

"I'll try to do what is appropriate,” he said. “I'll let the university handle it their way and then I will handle it my way."

Depending on Reed's status, Paterno said, the Nits "probably will have to move a couple of guys from defense over to the offense up front."

BACK AT FULLBACK: BranDon Snow, who started his career at fullback before being moved to linebacker, is back at fullback. Depth will come from Matt Hahn, Dan Lawlor and true freshman Jed Hill.

INJURY REPORT: TB Austin Scott (broken ankle) is out for spring drills.

"He will be able to do some things in spring practice. He just can't get involved in the hard stuff," Paterno said.

Scott won't play in the Blue White Game on April 23. WR Brendan Perretta (shoulder) and walk-on LB Matt Pavelic (blood clot issues) are also out of spring drills.

HALL'S ROLE: Paterno said offensive coordinator Galen Hall will remain in the press box this year. Hall spent the first several games on the field before moving upstairs midway through last year.

KICKING AROUND: Paterno called last year's field-goal kicking "erratic." True freshman Kevin Kelly is a candidate to replace Robbie Gould, along with walk-ons Pat Humes and Pat Rosenella. Both were with the team last year while Kelly comes in on scholarship.

"Obviously, the kid coming in is going to have a shot at playing… Paterno said. "That is going to be a real big if for us."

BUILDING BLOCKS: The Lions return nine starters, losing only DB Andrew Guman and LB Derek Wake from a defensive unit that was ranked nationally in several categories last year.

Paterno: "You can get by one year with doing certain things, and you can get a little bit complacent. We have to understand that they have to get better. They are a group that thinks they can be really good. They have good leadership."

TOP CONCERN: Paterno admitted he's not been satisfied with the offensive line, and he challenged the unit Wednesday.

"Our offensive line has been a concern of mine,” he said. “Not because of the athletic ability. I am concerned about whether there is the mental toughness it takes to be a really good offensive lineman. We have tried to challenge them this winter and push them harder. We got some of them to lose some weight. If we are going to be better, we have to have a little more consistent operation up front than we had last year."

40 AND COUNTING: Paterno enters his 40th season as the Lions' head coach. "This is going to be a fun year for me. It is, obviously, a big challenge for me personally as well as for the whole program. I kind of thrive on those kinds of things."

CHECKING THE SCHEDULE: It was announced Wednesday the Lions' Oct. 8 home game with Ohio State will be played at night -- either kicking off at 7 for ESPN2 or 7:45 for ESPN.

(Compiled by Neil Rudel of the Altoona Mirror).

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