How will the Nittany Lions react to the potential loss of the talented sophomore linebacker? We break it down in this Instant Analysis.

Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti went down with a knee injury in a scrimmage Sunday.

Preliminary indications are that the injury is a torn ACL, though the coaching staff is waiting to see test results to be certain.

If the sophomore did tear an ACL, he is looking at six to nine months of rehab. It might be a stretch for him to be ready for contact by the time spring practice rolls around.

People close to the program say everyone is crestfallen over the injury. Mauti is one of the more well-respected players on the team. Teammates and coaches have lauded him for his ability, attitude, work ethic and humility.

As one observer said, “Why do these things always happen to the nicest guys?”

But if things play out as expected — if the injury is indeed a torn ACL — the news may be terrible now, but over the long term things should work out for all involved.

The best news is that Mauti played as a true freshman in 2008 and has a redshirt available. That is key, because he will still be able to log three more seasons of eligibility with the Lions if he is unable to return in 2009.

He also happens to be a member of the deepest unit on the team, one that can absorb this type of injury because there are quality athletes ready to fill in.

Our guess is this will solidify a starting lineup of Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman at the two outside positions, with Josh Hull reprising his role as the inside linebacker. Lee, who is coming back from an ACL tear that forced him to miss all of 2008, is an All-Big Ten caliber performer, as is Bowman.

Hull may not be in the same league as Lee and Bowman in terms of athleticism. But the senior is extremely strong and extremely smart. He also started every game in 2008, making 75 tackles, so he is experienced.

When talking to FOS at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago last month, head coach Joe Paterno was admittedly undecided on how to best use his linebacker talent in 2009. Lee and Bowman were both obvious starters in his mind. But he said he did not want to “push Josh aside as if he's not very good because he is good. … We've got to take a look at who's the third linebacker and where does Hull fit in.”

Well, any PSU fan who was complaining about the prospects of Hull potentially starting in 2009 — and keeping Mauti in a reserve role — ought to be thanking their lucky stars that Hull is still around. With an outstanding corps of defensive tackles in front of him, and Lee and Bowman on either side, don't be surprised if he is much more effective in 2009 than he was in 2008.

And if Mauti is forced to miss the entire season, it will free up more playing time for the other young linebackers on the team, like Nate Stupar, Mike Yancich and Michael Zordich. Whatever experience that trio can gain this year will be vital, considering Lee and Hull will both be gone in 2010.

It remains to be seen how Mauti's injury impacts another linebacker — junior Chris Colasanti. A middle 'backer by trade, the staff intended to redshirt Colasanti this year because he figured to be riding the pine behind Hull or whomever else might be starting inside. Before he was injured, Mauti was seeing reps inside, behind Hull.

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