Paterno: No Worries About Lee

Nittany Lion coach said he can afford to take it easy on the star outside linebacker this spring. He is more concerned with some of the less experienced members of his squad.

If nothing else, Joe Paterno knows what to expect from one facet of his defending Big Ten champion football team. That facet's name: Sean Lee.

Paterno said Friday, just before heading to Holuba Hall for the Nittany Lions' second practice of the spring, he isn't planning on pushing the fifth-year senior linebacker to the limit.

“Lee doesn't have to prove anything to us,” he said. “We know that he's a football player.”

Labeled “one of the best kids I've ever coached” by Paterno, Lee missed the 2008 season after the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee was torn last April while he was chasing quarterback Daryll Clark during spring drills. The 2007 All-American said his surgically repaired and extensively rehabbed knee has been feeling normal again for about the past month and a half, and he's eager to start hitting.

“I'm going to do seven-on-seven, agility drills, linebacker drills,” Lee said “I'm going to do whatever they tell me to do. And whatever drill I do, I'm going to do 100 percent. If they want to take me out, they'll take me out.”

It appears the coaches do indeed plan on having him give way when contact is involved. Said Paterno, “We've got some young kids that we've got to find out some things about.”

Lee aside, there's a lot to be learned about this squad this spring, and not just at linebacker. Penn State has lost six starters on offense and seven on defense, as well as four-year starting kicker Kevin Kelly. Graduation hit the Lions especially hard on the offensive line and at the receiver and defensive back positions.

The secondary will be one of the team's primary concerns with four starters gone. The Lions have a potential rising star in safety Drew Astorino, and veteran cornerback A.J. Wallace returns as well, but even so, the Lions are anxious to see what they've got.

“We've got to get a secondary that can stand on its own two feet,” Paterno said. “That's one of the big jobs we have.”

On offense, Paterno said the Lions will try to avoid scaling back their plans, even with three new starters manning the offensive line and Graham Zug, Brett Brackett, Derrick Moye and Chaz Powell vying to replace standout receivers Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood.

“We're not going to go into it with the idea it's going to affect us. We're going to try to do the things we've done,” Paterno said. “A lot of those kids have been around. We've got a quarterback who's been there. And of the wideouts, Zug has played a lot of football and Brackett knows what's going on. Powell has played some. Moye has not played a lot, but he's been around. So I wouldn't want to change a lot. But we'll do what we have to do. If it doesn't work out that way and we have to go back to the single-wing, we'll go back to the single-wing.”

Clark said the Nittany Lions have been driven during the winter and the start of spring practice by memories of their lopsided 38-24 loss to USC in the Rose Bowl.

“We kind of forgot about it, but we didn't forget about it, if you know what I mean,” Clark said. “That's been motivation. The national championship is going to be out at the Rose Bowl this year, and that's everyone's goal. We've gotten a lot of the young guys in tune with what we're trying to accomplish this year, and it showed in winter workouts.”

In other news…

• Defensive tackle Jared Odrick isn't likely to suffer any football-related fallout after he was cited for disorderly conduct following an alleged confrontation with three Penn State students Feb. 28. Odrick called Paterno the day after the incident to discuss the matter. “He obviously had too much to drink and it was a Saturday night,” Paterno said. “Right now he's OK. You only get so many shots, though.”

• The scholarship players slated to miss spring practice with injuries are tailbacks Stephfon Green and Brent Carter, linebacker Jerome Hayes and center Doug Klopacz. Paterno said tailback Evan Royster, who was injured in the Rose Bowl, was fine.

• Paterno said he expected junior Stefen Wisniewski to adapt well after moving from guard to center in the off-season to replace the graduated A.Q. Shipley. “Wisniewski comes from a football family,” Paterno said. “His uncle was a great player here, his father was a great player here. Young Wisniewski will be fine.”

• Paterno defended Bobby Bowden, whose victory total at Florida State is threatened by an academic scandal that may force the school to vacate as many as 14 wins. “I don't think that should have anything to do with Bobby's record,” Paterno said. “I don't think Bobby had much to do with what happened.” Paterno and Bowden have been dueling for years for the most career major-college wins. Going into the 2009 season, Paterno has 383 victories, while Bowden has 382.

• Paterno said he was “delighted” that defensive line coach Larry Johnson decided to stay at Penn State after being courted by Illinois during the school's search for a new defensive coordinator. Paterno said he told Johnson that he didn't think the longtime Nittany Lion assistant would necessarily need to take a coordinator's job as a prerequisite to becoming a head coach.


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