Paterno, nursing sore leg, hopes to coach from sideline Saturday

Updated: September 25, 2008, 10:46 PM ET
Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Joe Paterno didn't list himself on the injury report, but Penn State's coach designated himself "hopeful" to be back on the sideline for the 12th-ranked Nittany Lions' game Saturday night against Illinois.

Slowed by a sore right leg, the Hall of Famer moved to the press box after halftime of last week's rout of Temple -- not that the 81-year-old Paterno says he couldn't have stayed on the field the whole time.

"Yeah, I hope to be," Paterno said Tuesday when asked if he intends to pace the Beaver Stadium sideline for the Big Ten opener versus the No. 22 Illini. "I could have been out in the second half Saturday if I wanted to, but ... I figured we got a lot of football ahead of us. Let's maybe take it a little bit easier upstairs.

"But I intend to be on the sideline," added Paterno, who appeared to favor the leg slightly as he walked out of the stadium media room. He said he would get it checked out "one of these days."

Not many senior citizens make onside kicks at football practices with men young enough to be their grandchildren.

But that's exactly what Paterno was doing several weeks ago when he hurt the leg. It's part of a lighthearted end-of-the week practice ritual for the Nittany Lions.

Team members said Paterno hasn't complained about soreness, though he had been monitoring drills from a golf cart last week before mentioning late in the week that he may not be on the sideline for the Temple game.

His stubbornness to stay on the field made an impression with receiver Deon Butler.

"We know he's a fighter. We know how bad he wants to be on the sideline, how easily he could have been in the booth," the senior said. "If we get tired or banged up, we just look to him, what he's going through and push harder to go through it."

The Nittany Lions appear closer to getting some key players back on the field, as well. Defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma returned to practice Monday, after having been suspended the past three games following an off-field issue.

The duo started the Coastal Carolina game but haven't seen action since. Police last week charged each player with one misdemeanor count of possession of a small amount of marijuana stemming from a Sept. 2 call at their apartment for loud music.

"Well, we'll see. They practiced yesterday," Paterno said. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do the rest of the week."

Getting Evans back could especially help a Nittany Lions defensive line that has lost depth because of injuries and suspension.

Evans had a team-leading 12.5 sacks last year, and his ability to pressure the quarterback should help Penn State contain dual-threat Illini quarterback Juice Williams.

Also, Paterno hopes to get have starting tight end Mickey Shuler and backup defensive tackle Mike Lucian available against Illinois. Each has been hobbled by a sore ankle.

Lucian started this year as a reserve offensive lineman, and could be moved back there this weekend if JoePa wants to shore up depth following a season-ending knee injury to backup center Doug Klopacz.

Besides Williams, chief among Paterno's other concerns this weekend are kick return coverage and fumbles.

The Nittany Lions' kick coverage unit allowed nearly 36.8 yards per return against Temple, about 10 more than what they allowed the previous two weeks. Those numbers might need to improve if Penn State wants to contain Illinois' dangerous kick returner, Arrelious Benn.

Penn State has also fumbled 11 times over the past three games, but has been fortunate to have lost just four.

An exasperated Paterno hopes his Nittany Lions take extra focus into ball-carrying and takeaway drills this week.

"It's a tremendous concern," he said. "We talk about it, we practice it, we set up drills where the kid carrying the football has to protect it with one or two guys trying to pull it out. I don't know what else to do."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press