"I'm relieved because I can do some things now that I had trouble doing the last couple of years, particularly on the practice field,'' Paterno said yesterday during a teleconference with ever-inquisitive members of the media. "I'm able to get around.
"Last year I had somebody drive me around on a golf cart. I feel much better about everything. Hopefully it won't be, 'Paterno is doing this, Paterno is doing that,' and we can concentrate on our football team.''
But while JoePa again will be on the sideline for Saturday afternoon's season opener against Akron - it remains to be seen if he runs onto the Beaver Stadium field ahead of his team, or walks slowly behind it - several players on whom he had counted will be on crutches or in inflatable walking boots.
"I don't know if I'm going to be able to run on the field,'' Paterno said, as much of a concession to age as he'll ever make. "I've been trying to do a little jogging out there on the practice field.''
Which is more than can be said for backup defensive tackle Brandon Ware, who broke his foot in Monday's practice, further depleting a depth situation that is beginning to approach critical mass. With Abe Koroma, who logged appreciable playing time in 2008, having transferred to Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) Western Illinois, the primary backup at defensive tackle to starters Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu is Devon Still. He is a redshirt sophomore from Wilmington, Del., who missed the 2007 season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Then he suffered a broken ankle in August 2008, which kept him sidelined except for 10 plays in the regular-season finale against Michigan State.
Two defensive starters - strongside linebacker Sean Lee and left end Jerome Hayes - were felled last season by torn ACLs. Lee missed the entire season; Hayes was injured in Game 2. Sophomore middle linebacker Michael Mauti, who had been expected to push senior Josh Hull for playing time, is being redshirted after he tore his ACL in preseason practice.
The thing that is most disappointing to Paterno is that both Ware and Mauti went down without having been hit.
"Didn't even get hit,'' Paterno said of the 6-3, 347-pound Ware, a redshirt freshman who had been in his doghouse for failure to properly condition himself, although he had made progress toward getting his weight down. "He was just running and he broke a bone in his foot.''
Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, Penn State's orthopedic surgeon, estimated that Ware would be unavailable to play for "3 to 4 weeks,'' which, Paterno said, "probably means 4 to 5 weeks.''
Mauti's injury happened much the same way, as had Lee's last year.
"He was just running, turned and the knee went out," said Paterno, who seemed especially distressed since he was counting on the Mandeville, La., resident - son of former Penn State wide receiver Rich Mauti - to play an enhanced role this season after he appeared in all 13 games and registered 26 tackles as a true freshman.
"Mauti is a big-time prospect,'' Paterno said. "He'd be in the same league with [Navorro] Bowman and Lee.'' *