Penn State: Injuries keep Lee, Bowman apart
Sean Lee remains day to day, according to coach Joe Paterno.
Navorro Bowman's aggravated groin has kept him from being stellar.
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Penn State All-American candidates Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee were expected to be one of the top outside linebacker tandems in the country this season.
But injuries to both have limited their playing time together to just four plays.
Bowman and Lee started the Nittany Lions' season-opener against Akron, but Bowman departed after just four snaps after re-aggravating a groin injury. He missed the next two games before returning two weeks ago against Iowa.
Lee, a fifth-year senior co-captain from Upper St. Clair High School, was injured in the second quarter of the third game against Temple after taking a helmet to his knee.
He left the game but returned in the fourth quarter before tweaking the knee again and limping off the field.
Lee has been in uniform the past two games, but has not played, trading in his helmet for a headset. His sprained left knee has been fitted with a brace, which he will wear the rest of the season.
Lee remains questionable for the Lions' non-conference game at noon Saturday against Division I-AA Eastern Illinois at Beaver Stadium.
It raises the possibility that he and Bowman might not be reunited until the Oct. 17 home game against Minnesota.
"I can't wait," Bowman said after Saturday's 35-17 victory against Illinois. "Me and Sean, as much as you guys want to see us on the field at the same time, we want to see us on the field together, too.
"I enjoy watching him. And now I just want to enjoy playing with him. It would be a heck of a defense. I'm smiling. You got me just thinking about it."
Bowman, a redshirt junior, and Lee have missed their shares of practices due to their injuries.
"We laugh and play around and joke," Bowman said. "I say he took the non-conference games and I came in for the Big Ten games. But we're all behind each other. That linebacker group and core, it's a family thing. We're all rooting for each other to do the best job we can do."
Bowman, 6 feet 1 and 230 pounds, was Penn State's leading tackler last season and a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection. Lee, 6-2, 236, sat out last year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a scrimmage.
Lee is the team's second-leading tackler this year with 32 stops. He has a team-high 7 1/2 tackles for losses and two sacks. Bowman is the seventh-leading tackler with 20, including four for losses.
Coach Joe Paterno said Lee remains "day to day."
"He suited up [the past two weeks] because he is an emotional leader on the team," Paterno said. "He can help us. He's coaching on the sideline and he's coaching the linebackers all the time."
No one understands Lee's frustration more than Bowman.
"As a football player, you want to come back but the doctors know best," Bowman said. "You and the doctor have to be on the same page and when that happens you'll be all right.
"Sean's hungry. Every single day I ask him how he's feeling and he says, 'I feel better, I feel better.' He's a very strong competitor and he wants to get back out here."
Lee said after Saturday's game against Illinois that he was pleased with the play of the linebackers. Middle linebacker Josh Hull had a team-high 11 tackles. Bani Gbadyu, who started in Lee's spot, was the second-leading tackler with eight and Bowman tied for third-most with seven.
Penn State (4-1) was ranked No. 14 in The Associated Press poll released yesterday and No. 12 in the USA Today coaches' poll. The Lions' five opponents have scored just 11 first-half points -- an average of 2.2 per game.
"This team is young and there's a lot of new guys on the field playing a lot of plays," Bowman said. "Hopefully, we're jelling together and getting back to where we left off last year."
First Published October 5, 2009 12:00 am