Sales Benefits From Connor's Suspension

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Dan Connor's indiscretion appears to be Tyrell Sales' gain. With Connor suspended for his role in making prank phone calls, Sales has become Penn State's starting middle linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound redshirt freshman from Butler will be flanked by Paul Posluszny and Tim Shaw.

"Sales is a good, tough kid," Joe Paterno said at the conclusion of Friday's practice. "He's a good football player. Shaw and Paul on the outside are very fine athletes. Sales has a little more bulk. His best spot is probably inside."

Paterno refused to disclose how long Connor will be out. Though suspended indefinitely, he's practicing with the team, along with accomplices Jim Kanuch and Nolan McCready.

After police investigated the calls, placed over the spring and summer to former Lion assistant coach Joe Sarra, the three were disciplined internally last week.

A day later, Connor was suspended indefinitely.

"I haven't decided anything," Paterno said, nixing further questions on the subject. "All I'm trying to do is get this football team ready."

Connor was not available Friday. The players said he feels badly.

"He knows he messed up, and he regrets it," quarterback Michael Robinson said. "It upset everybody, but the team forgave him."

"We have to look at it as a wrong and see there was a fault there and just move on," defensive end Tamba Hali said. "It hasn't really affected the team that much."

Friday's scrimmage ended in a spirited goal-line session with the offense and defense splitting success.

"Coach Paterno creates an atmosphere where we have to win the goal-line," Robinson said. "He says everytime we go goal-line, it's for the national championship. We have pride in what we do, and scoring against a great defense like that gives our huddle more confidence."

Paterno said he was generally satisfied with what the Lions accomplished during the preseason. He wanted to scrimmage Friday to get a longer look at the true freshmen and younger players "just to make sure we're picking the right ones when we go to work Monday."

He gave the team the weekend off before preparations for the season opener against South Florida (3:30 p.m. Saturday) begin.

Paterno said other than wide receiver Mark Rubin (ankle), the camp has been relatively injury-free. Fellow wideout Deon Butler was "bumped up," Paterno said, creating more opportunity for true freshmen such as Derrick Williams, Justin King and Lydell Sargeant.

He said Sargeant will likely return kickoffs with Williams.

Josh Gaines, a redshirt freshman, has replaced Lavon Chisley (academically ineligible) at defensive end. Gaines and Mike Lucian, another redshirt freshman, will be the backups to Hali and Matthew Rice.

Asked for a camp surprise, Paterno singled out senior tight end Isaac Smolko after criticizing him two weeks ago at Media Day.

"One kid who has been all business who I had doubts about is Smolko," he said. "He's catching the ball well, he's kept his mouth shut, and he's running better."

Notes: King is also being used at cornerback with Anwar Phillips shifting back to nickel when the Lions go to five defensive backs ... Paterno said freshman quarterback Kevin Suhey will probably redshirt ... Neither freshman kicker, Kevin Kelly or Matt Waldron, has emerged as No. 1 ... Other players to draw praise from Paterno included cornerback Tony Davis, a redshirt freshman, true freshman defensive back/returner Anthony Scirrotto, and Josh Hull, a walk-on freshaman linebacker from Penns Valley.

(Neil Rudel covers Penn State football for the Altoona Mirror).

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