Injured Paterno looking for bounce-back season at Penn State


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As he enters his 46th season as Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno insists he feels fine.

With one small catch.

“I feel great, except I’m in a lot of pain,” he told reporters at the team’s media day on Aug. 16.

Nine days earlier, while Paterno was taking notes at practice, Nittany Lion receiver Devon Smith accidentally leveled the 84-year old coach while running a route. Paterno spent two nights in Mount Nittany Medical Center with arm and hip injuries — but not before standing up and finishing practice.

Smith said he was amazed at his coach’s toughness.

“I think he’s a great coach, a tough coach,” the 157-pound receiver told PennLive.com. “Somebody who’s his age, who can take a hit like that and come back on the field — that’s a tough coach.”

The injury was just the latest incident in what has been a painful last five years for Paterno. In 2006, he cracked three ribs when he was run over in practice by a Nittany Lion tight end. The same year, Paterno broke his left leg and damaged a knee ligament when a Wisconsin linebacker ran into him on the sidelines at Camp Randall Stadium. He missed the final two games of that season.

In 2008, Paterno injured his hip attempting to demonstrate an onside kick in practice, spending the last seven games of the year coaching from the press box. And last season, he spent more time in the press box while battling a yearlong intestinal illness.

But Paterno had apparently recovered, and he said at Big Ten media days in July that he was the healthiest he’d been in two years.

The collision with Smith in practice may have changed that, but Paterno remained optimistic. He said he “absolutely” will coach from the sidelines at the Nittany Lions’ season opener.

“Physically, I feel great outside of that,” Paterno told reporters from a golf cart. “In about eight or nine days, I should be able to do everything without having some guy driving me around.”

Their coach’s health isn’t the only concern facing Penn State this season, though.

The team must replace running back Evan Royster, the program’s all-time leading rusher, and guard Stefen Wisniewski. Penn State recorded just 17 sacks last season and has no proven defensive ends.

But the biggest issue facing the team is an unsettled quarterback situation. Rob Bolden started the team’s season-opener last year as a true freshman. But following a concussion, Bolden was benched in favor of Matt McGloin. Then a junior, McGloin played well early on but struggled down the stretch and threw five interceptions in a 37-24 loss to Florida in the Outback Bowl.

After the season, Bolden asked to be released from his scholarship and allowed to transfer. Paterno refused. The team enters the 2011 season with both quarterbacks, plus redshirt freshman Paul Jones, competing for the starting job.

Senior receiver Derek Moye said he hopes to see the competition settled soon.

“I’d definitely like to have the same quarterback for the whole season,” Moye said at Penn State’s media day. “But at the same time, the coaches are going to do what puts the team in the best position.” Paterno took the blame for the team’s disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2010, but he said he is hopeful for the upcoming season.

“I think we have a chance to have some people who can play well,” he said at Big Ten media day. “I don’t think we played very well last year. I don’t think I did a very good job coaching last year. I’ve got to do a better job.

“Everybody’s got to do a better job.”

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