UNIVERSITY PARK — He’s got the Big Ten’s leading returning rusher, its returning first-team quarterback, a linebacker who made 106 tackles last season and another one who made 138 stops the year before.
Evan Royster, Daryll Clark, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee are four good reasons — among several others — for Joe Paterno to get excited about his 2009 Penn State football team, right?
The glass is never half full for the Hall of Fame coach in August, it seems.
“Nothing excites me yet,” Paterno said Thursday at Penn State’s annual media day, shortly before his team’s fourth practice of the preseason. “We’re lousy we have nothing to be excited about as a team. We have too many things we’ve got to get accomplished.”
Paterno, who turns 83 in four months, paused for a few seconds before adding a line that brought the house down:
“I’m excited to be alive.”
If history is any indication, Paterno’s preseason bluster means he privately believes his team is capable of big things this fall. But there are a few big question marks.
The Nittany Lions lost offensive linemen A.Q. Shipley, Gerald Cadogan and Rich Ohrnberger to graduation and the performances of their likely replacements during the spring left something to be desired. A secondary that will feature four new starters has been up and down, and has had some depth issues in recent weeks.
There’s no denying the star power and veteran leadership on the team. But the role players have Paterno concerned.
“We gotta play with 22,” he said. “I think we have some young players who have a chance to be in the quality that you’re suggesting but I don’t know yet.”
Senior cornerback A.J. Wallace is in the Royster-Clark-Lee-Bowman class in terms of talent but has ceded practice reps to some of those younger players as punishment for academic issues. Further discipline could be in Wallace’s future.
“I told A.J. I might not play him in a game or two,” Paterno said. “If he cuts any more classes, he won’t play. ... I think he’ll be all right when I play him will depend on what I hear back from our academic advisers.”
Two players that had been expected to back up Wallace at corner are not with the Nittany Lions this preseason. True freshman Darrell Givens never enrolled with his classmates in July and, when he discovered he was academically ineligible, enrolled at Rutgers. Senior Devin Fentress, who graduated but spent the spring with the team, will pursue a second degree this fall but not play his final season of eligibility.
The Nittany Lions’ depth at most other positions is more substantial if mostly unproven. Paterno said he was uncomfortable in breaking down individual positions because a lack of development at other spots might limit what the Nittany Lions will try to do.
“I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do until I find out what kind of team I’ve got,” he said.
Notes: Paterno confirmed that senior Dennis Landolt has moved from right tackle to left tackle, with sophomore DeOn’tae Pannell moving from left to right. ... Reserve offensive lineman J.B. Walton’s football career at Penn State is over due to a learning disability that affected his classwork. “We couldn’t do the job for him academically that I think he’s entitled to,” Paterno said. ... Paterno said redshirt freshman defensive tackle Brandon Ware, listed at 341 pounds on the updated roster, is still “20 pounds away from even coming close to being a football player.” ... Walk-on offensive lineman Ethan Hull, a Penns Valley graduate whose older brother, Josh, started at middle linebacker for Penn State last season, is no longer with the team.