With storm clouds hovering over Happy Valley due to the controversy surrounding former Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State football team opened the doors to Holuba Hall to the media last week.
In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a look at some of the highlights from coach Joe Paterno’s news conference. Next week, we’ll preview the annual Blue-White Game.
Let’s start with Paterno.
Paterno was hit with a haymaker right out of the gate last week, as he was asked about the controversy surrounding Sandusky. Paterno deflected the question.
“We came in here to talk about football and this football team,” Paterno said matter-of-factly.
Just like that, it was on to football. Paterno was asked about the quarterback situation, which is bound to drag into the summer and perhaps, early fall.
Will it be Matt McGloin again? Perhaps Paterno will go back to Rob Bolden? Or could Paul Jones or Kevin Newsome sneak in and be the starter?
Paterno wasn’t tipping his hand.
“I think there is competition. There are three or four kids here, maybe four who can go. The kid Bolden is who most people are interested in because of the fact that he’s on the verge of playing, and he’s had a really good spring so far as has Mac (McGloin),” Paterno said. “So I think those two are ahead of the other group, and those two make it tough right now. I’m not sure which one’s playing better, and then we have a couple of other kids.”
So at this point, it appears that the battle for the starting QB is a two-horse race between McGloin and Bolden.
One of the keys to the 2011 season will be the offensive line. With the loss of Stefen Wisniewski to graduation, the Nittany Lions will have a massive hole to fill. When asked about the O-line, Paterno didn’t have much to offer.
“I don’t know what to tell you. I mean we don’t have the first thing on the offensive line right now. We’ve got a couple of good tackles. (Matt) Stankiewitch hasn’t played much at center,” Paterno said. “We don’t have any depth there. We don’t have a solid first string yet. That’s our first job … we’ve got to go step by step with this group. But right now I could not tell you who is going to play and who is not going to play.”
In addition to the O-line, another area of concern is running back. The Lions lost all-time leading rusher Evan Royster to graduation, so there’s a huge hole to fill.
Paterno addressed those concerns as well.
“Well, we have (Brandon) Beachum back. He’s a good football player and a good all-around football player. He has a chance to be really good. He’s hanging on to the football, and he’s got to do a better job blocking and pass protecting,” Paterno said. “Green could be really good, but Green, again, sometimes it’s a little hidden problem with him going to class once in a while. So that they understand they have to go to class to play, that’s how they get an opportunity to do the things that they can do.”
Another concern heading into spring practice is special teams. The Nittany Lions lost placekicker Collin Wagner to graduation. While Wagner wasn’t flashy, he was pretty reliable. Replacing him will be job No. 1.
“Well, there is concern. We recruited a kid that’s coming in who is a placekicker. And we’ve been working (Anthony) Fera at punter and he could be a really good punter. But he’s a little erratic. Some days he goes out there and shanks the ball a couple of times,” Paterno said. “But we have the potential to have a pretty good kicking team. I think we have the potential of a good return game as part of the kicking game.
Despite all the uncertainty, Paterno said that he’s looking forward to another season.
“I like this team,” Paterno said. “I think we’ve got a chance to be decent.”
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for gantdaily.com. He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!