How do you replace that kind of quality?
Perhaps you replace it with quantity.
Defensive ends Tim Shaw and Josh Gaines said Thursday the Nittany Lions have been using four players at Johnson's spot: senior Steve Roach, true freshman Phillip Taylor, redshirt freshman Chris Baker and redshirt sophomore Mike Lucian.
In addition, Penn State appeared to be using Jim Shaw at the position at practice Thursday morning. Shaw, a senior who started the season opener at defensive end, was wearing a blue first-team jersey during the drills, portions of which were open to the media. He was one of only four defensive linemen — along with projected starting tackle Jay Alford, and ends Tim Shaw and Gaines — to wear a blue jersey.
With so many contenders vying for Johnson's former spot, the Lions clearly don't lack manpower. Whether they have the muscle they need to fill in for the departed senior is another question.
Any time you lose a guy with that much experience and talent, it's going to have an impact, Tim Shaw said. But we feel like we've got some guys who can step up and fill that role. We miss Ed, but we've got to play without him, so we're going to overcome it.
Jim Shaw would appear to be a reasonable choice. Though listed at 264 pounds, he is physically tough and is experienced as well, having started four games this season at defensive end despite suffering ankle and knee injuries. He started the 2005 season-opener against South Florida at defensive tackle before sustaining a knee injury. When he returned to action, it was as a reserve at end.
The other potential contributors are all bigger than Shaw, but they are inexperienced. Roach played in nine games during the regular season and made three tackles. Baker made six tackles in his first season of eligibility. Lucian alternated between offense and defense. Taylor played in the team's final six games after the coaching staff decided not to redshirt him.
The Lions have been scrambling ever since Johnson was barred from the Outback Bowl earlier this month. The 290-pounder from Detroit had rebounded smartly after sitting out his junior season for disciplinary reasons, winning honorable mention All-Big Ten notice for his role in helping the Nittany Lions hold opponents to just 87.8 yards a game.
Gaines said he hasn't talked to Johnson since the team's last practice at Penn State.
It's a sad situation. I don't know what happened, Gaines said. It's sad that he can't play his last game. I hate to see him go out like that, not playing in his last game. But we've got guys who are ready to step in and play, so I feel comfortable with the guys next to me. Hopefully, we can get it done.
Redshirting tailback Austin Scott was not going to play against Tennessee under any circumstances. But after he left Tampa to tend to what Joe Paterno described as some family things, Scott's future at Penn State seems more clouded than ever.
Is the Outback Bowl a sign of things to come? Or will the star-crossed senior-to-be rebound in his final season of eligibility?
Receiver Deon Butler is hoping it's the latter.
He looked like he was in good spirits while he was here, Butler said. We're wishing the best for him while he's home. We'll definitely need him next year, so hopefully he's watching this game. I know he'll work hard and be back next year.
Gaines said that if Paterno is allowed to coach from the sideline in the Outback Bowl, he won't have to worry about getting run over again. He'll have a posse.
We're soldiers for him, Gaines said. If anybody comes close to him, there will be a couple of guys hopefully deflecting that from him.
Gaines was asked if he had any relatives or family friends who are as active as Paterno is at age 80.
Everybody in my family who's that age is dead, he said. Joe is in shape, I'll tell you that much. He's a freak. I've never seen someone break his leg and a month later he's walking around. I've never seen it before in my life. I'm amazed by it. He should be on 'Ripley's Believe It or Not.' But he's a strong guy, a strong-willed guy. That's just how he is.