Penn State has continued to make headlines for its off-the-field problems since the end of last season. On the field, the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 22 in the USA Today Top 25 coaches' preseason poll. Penn State has plenty of offensive firepower, but a handful of key defensive players are gone. There will be plenty of story lines to watch when practice opens tomorrow.
The 81-year-old icon is entering the final year of his contract. University president Graham Spanier has said Paterno's future will be re-evaluated after the season and there would be no more contracts, even if Paterno does coach another year or two. Paterno's once-proud program has come under intense scrutiny since December, when he worked his 500th game as the Nittany Lions' boss at the Alamo Bowl. An ESPN "Outside The Lines" report last Sunday found that since 2002, 46 players have been charged with 163 criminal complaints. Of the 46, 27 pleaded guilty or were convicted. Last year alone, 17 players were charged with 72 crimes. Nine charges resulted in guilty pleas. This past week, Paterno booted two projected starters -- defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor -- off the team. Meanwhile, three other suspended players -- tight end Andrew Quarless, linebacker Navorro Bowman and defensive back Knowledge Timmons -- await decisions on their futures.
This was supposed to be a position of strength. But now that former starting defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor have been kicked off the team, the front four is not nearly as strong as it once appeared to be. The Lions are solid at defensive end with Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines. Evans, a junior, was a one-man wrecking crew last year in his first season as a starter, compiling 12 1/2 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for losses en route to earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. Gaines, a fifth-year senior co-captain, is a two-year starter who has been steady. The tackle spots will be anchored by redshirt sophomores Abe Koroma and Ollie Ogbu. Junior backup Jared Odrick started seven of the first eight games last year before suffering a season-ending injury.
Senior Daryll Clark is expected to be the man to replace Anthony Morelli at quarterback, although redshirt sophomore Pat Devlin is expected to challenge Clark for playing time in the spread offense. Clark and Devlin have played sparingly, although Clark rushed for 50 yards and one touchdown while spelling Morelli in the Lions' Alamo Bowl victory against Texas A&M. Clark, 6 feet 2 and 231 pounds, played in eight games last season but only completed 6 of 9 passes for 31 yards. He ran for another 78 yards and two touchdowns. Devlin, 6-4 and 222, played in four games last year, with his only pass attempt an incompletion. Devlin is Pennsylvania's all-time high school passing leader with 8,162 yards.
Redshirt sophomore Evan Royster began last season as the No. 3 tailback behind Austin Scott and Rodney Kinlaw. But, when Scott was kicked off the team, Royster moved up to No. 2. Royster, 6-1, 212, was the Lions' second-leading rusher last season, gaining 513 yards on 82 carries. He scored five touchdowns, including the winner in the Alamo Bowl and was named to The Sporting News' Big Ten all-freshman team. Now that Kinlaw has departed (he managed 1,329 yards and 10 touchdowns), Royster is the No. 1 running back. He figures to get pushed for playing time, however, by redshirt freshman Stephfon Green (5-10, 189), who managed a game-high 87 yards and one touchdown in the Blue-White game this spring. Green's game-breaking speed -- 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- will help.
Penn State lost All-American linebacker Dan Connor, the school's all-time leading tackler, to the NFL. And this spring, the Lions lost projected first-team All-American Sean Lee to a season-ending ACL injury. Both are major losses. Redshirt junior Josh Hull, a former walk-on, is targeted to take over for Lee in the middle -- Lee was working at that spot at the time of his injury. Tyrell Sales, a fifth-year senior from Butler, returns for his second season as a starter on the outside. Redshirt sophomore Bani Gbadyu likely will start at the other outside linebacker spot.
Ron Musselman can be reached at email@example.com .