Laying it on the Offensive Line

With the season closing fast, the front five is still a primary concern for Joe Paterno. The Nittany Lion coach talked about that and more at Media Day Saturday. See the story and our audio files here.

PATERNO AUDIO PART 1.

PATERNO AUDIO PART 2.

PATERNO AUDIO PART 3.

The Penn State football team held its Media Day Saturday afternoon. Guess which part of the squad inspired the most angst.

“If you asked me who was going to be on the starting offensive line if we were playing a game tomorrow, I couldn’t tell you,” Joe Paterno said. “I really could not tell you who it’s going to be.”

Ah yes, the line. With the season-opener only three weeks away, the sorest sore spot on Penn State’s roster, the spot that has given coaches headaches and quarterbacks backaches for much of the team’s recent history, is, well, sore. The Nittany Lions have yet to reassemble puzzle pieces that flew apart early in the off-season and time is running out in which to put things right.

“Our offensive line has to be stronger physically,” Paterno said, “and more consistent.”

Not that Paterno was downbeat. Sporting a deep tan and attired casually in a grey sportcoat and unbuttoned oxford shirt, Paterno looked much more at ease than he did Aug. 2 at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. He joked with reporters and talked optimistically about the season, insisting the Nittany Lions have a chance to be “a pretty good football team. Maybe better than a pretty good football team.”

Still, his optimism was guarded. For the Nittany Lions to rebound into Top 25 contention, they must find an effective combination up front, something they have failed to do in four of the past five years.

Paterno said he was disappointed in the behavior of linemen Tyler Reed, Andrew Richardson and E.Z. Smith. The three seniors, along with defensive tackle Scott Paxson, were disciplined in connection with an incident in which a number of arrows were fired through the wall of an on-campus residence into an adjoining apartment.

Smith, who started 11 games at center in 2004, was expelled from the university. He won’t be allowed back on campus until the fall semester begins Aug. 30 - five days before the season opener against South Florida. Consequently, Paterno isn’t expecting him to be a major contributor, at least when the season begins. “I don’t think we can count on E.Z. right now,” he said.

Reed, Richardson and Paxson were cleared in the university investigation and are practicing with the team. But the players apparently haven’t worked their way back into Paterno’s good graces. Reed and Richardson, who made a combined 15 starts last fall, are now “at the bottom of the list,” Paterno said.

“They’ve made problems for everybody,” the coach continued. “When they got in trouble, everybody on the football team got in trouble. They’ve got to step to the front, take their punishment and bust their butts to prove to the rest of the football team that they’re going to put themselves in a position where they’re going to play.”

Paterno said he hoped Reed and Richardson would “have a chance to get back in it,” and he did not rule out the possibility of Smith playing later in the season.

He added that the Nittany Lions’ hopes of running the ball better this fall than in 2004, when they finished ninth in the Big Ten in rushing, hinge not just on their personnel up front but on their success at forcing opponents to respect the passing game.

“We’re going to get after some people to be better, and I think we will be better,” he said. “But we’ve got to have better balance. The offensive line can’t blow people off the ball all day if there are eight guys in the box. There’s one guy you can’t block.”

Paterno didn’t spend all of his 45-minute news conference ruminating about the offensive line. Here are some of his other thoughts.

• Paterno said tailback Austin Scott has not fully recovered from the broken ankle that kept him out of spring practice. But despite the lingering effects of his injury, which occurred in March, Scott did not miss any of the first four days of practice and impressed Paterno with his desire to improve. The coach had previously criticized his work ethic but has lately been much more complimentary.

“To Austin’s credit, he sized up the situation and he’s working to be a good football player,” Paterno said. “If he stays healthy, I think he will be a good football player.”

• Paterno said he wouldn’t object to the university revealing his salary. A Harrisburg Patriot reporter requested Paterno’s pay, and the Commonwealth Court ruled this week that the request was valid. Penn State is likely to appeal, but Paterno said he wouldn’t mind if his salary was revealed.

“Whatever the university wants is fine with me,” he said. “If they want to release it, release it. If they don’t want to release it, don’t release it. I have no problems with it.”

• Paterno was unclear on the severity of a knee injury suffered by defensive end Lavon Chisley in practice Saturday morning. The senior trudged through Media Day on crutches, his right leg bandaged and encased in a heavy brace. But Chisley, who started last year’s season finale against Michigan State, said the results of an MRI showed the injury wasn’t serious.

• Asked whether true freshman Justin King would play both ways this fall, Paterno the cornerback/wide receiver “is probably going to play more offense than defense.”

• Redshirt freshman kicker Patrick Humes is currently not practicing with the team. Without naming names, Paterno said the Nittany Lions were interested in taking a look at two other kickers, presumably true freshman Kevin Kelly and walk-on Matt Waldron.

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