Morelli OnLion: Paterno Meets the Media

It’s time for the spring doldrums in Happy Valley.

With the Blue-White Game over and many spring sports teams putting the bow on their seasons, we’ve come to that time of the year when it is, quite frankly, somewhat boring in these parts.

Still, the show must go on.

In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll revisit coach Joe Paterno’s news conference prior to the Blue-White Game. We’ll also feature another member of the Class of 2010.

Paterno Meets the Media

Penn State coach Joe Paterno was scheduled to meet with media at an “Evening with Joe” event in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, but that was scrapped because the iconic coach has the flu. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at Paterno’s news conference prior to the Blue-White Game.

QB Battle
Paterno confirmed in his news conference before the Blue-White Game what fans and media alike already knew was the biggest concern facing Penn State — the quarterback position.

Predictably, Paterno spent the first four minutes of the news conference answering questions about the competition to replace Daryll Clark as the Nittany Lions’ starter.

While the 84-year-old coach couldn’t shed much light on the QB battle — “Who’s going to be the quarterback in the fall? I couldn’t tell you.” — he did share some interesting insights on other positions.

Linebackers aren’t a concern
Despite having to replace the entire starting linebacking corps — Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull, who were all drafted by an NFL team — Paterno didn’t seem the least bit concerned.

“The linebacker position? I think we’ll be good at the linebacker position. That’s not one of my concerns,” he said.

Paterno met with the media prior to the Blue-White Game.

“I think defensively we’ve had a good spring. I’m a little concerned about some depth but not at the linebacker spot. I think the linebackers have done well. I think we’ll have four or five linebackers than we can play and compete with.”

Neither are wide receivers
Some would argue that Paterno is enjoying a largesse of wide receiver talent unlike any during his tenure. The coach hinted at that while chiding that group for dropping some balls during spring drills. It’s those passes that aren’t exactly on the numbers, Paterno said, the receivers will have to get used to catching with a young, learning quarterback.

“I think we have very talented receivers, and they’ve done a lot of good things, but they haven’t caught the ball consistently. Now, I think part of that is some of the defensive backs are knocking them around a little bit,” he said.

“But, I think we’ve got to do a better job catching the ball, and that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to today. I think they’re going to have to make some catches from the quarterbacks.”

Tight end role still undefined
Penn State used tight ends Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler to create matchup problems for opposing defenses. Since both of them were selected in the NFL draft, the question now is, who will take their place? Paterno seemed comfortable with the answer.

“Well, (Andrew) Szczerba is going to be fine. He doesn’t have quite the speed that either Mickey or Quarless had, but he’s going to be fine,” he said.
“And then we have a young kid, (Garry) Gilliam, who I like. He’s going to be OK. So I think we’ll be all right. And we’re using (Brett) Brackett as a guy … Brackett is 235 pounds. He’s a guy we can put in the slot, put him in motion, be half a tight end, half a wideout, that kind of thing.”

Punting is up in the air
With ever-dependable punter Jeremy Boone lost to graduation, one of the special teams question marks is who will punt?

After the Capital One Bowl, most thought it would be Ryan Breen. He, however, has left the team for still unexplained reasons.

Backup Anthony Fera was then expected to step to the front, especially since Paterno seemed to indicate he didn’t expect Fera to unseat incumbent starting kicker Collin Wagner. But Fera was cited for alcohol possession and has been chained to Paterno’s doghouse.

“Well, the punting is a problem. We had a little setback. (Anthony) Fera got in a little bit of a jam, and I’m holding him out, because we were trying him rather than to be the second placekicker to see if he could be the first punter,” Paterno said.

“You know, that’s something … that’s a concern of mine, because if I talk to you about being a good defensive team, so much of it depends on field position, and without the punter … now, we’re trying (Graham) Zug as a punter, and Zug has looked pretty good.”

Zug didn’t look as good in the Blue-White Game as former Temple Owl and State College Area High School product Russell Nye.

Class of 2010: Thomas Ricketts

Penn State plucked another player right out of Pitt’s backyard.

Just a day after Miles Dieffenbach made a commitment to Penn State, Ricketts made his own choice, verballing to the Nittany Lions on June 3, 2009.

“It’s where I fit best, I felt that it’s where I was supposed to be,” he said. “I can pave my own path and be my own person. I really feel like it’s the place I should be at. It’s the best fit for me.”

Penn State went into Pitt's backyard and plucked Thomas Ricketts.

Ricketts is a Rivals.com four-star prospect, is the No. 19-overall offensive tackle in the country, the No. 6-overall player in Pennsylvania and finished at No. 166 in the final Rivals250.

Following his senior season, he was named first team all-state by the Associated press, was an all-conference selection and will play in the Big 33 Classic in June.

He selected Penn State over offers from Boston College, Florida State, Maryland, Pitt, Stanford and Virginia, among others.

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics. He is also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at morellionlion@gmail.com.

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