Penn State’s Joe Paterno answers a question during his weekly news conference on Tuesday in State College. The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions host Iowa Saturday night.AP PHOTO
Just in case there was some confusion on the matter, Joe Paterno doesn’t know if either of his star outside linebackers will be able to play Saturday.
With most everyone around the Penn State program curious to hear the status of Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman for the Big Ten opener against Iowa, the Nittany Lions coach wasn’t able to shed any light on the situation.
Paterno repeated several times that he couldn’t guess what would happen.
“I really don’t know whether Sean is gonna make it or not on Saturday,” Paterno said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “That’s a day-by-day thing. He tells us he’s gonna make it, but he’s not the doctor. He’s so determined to play, but I really don’t know.
“He was out on the field (Monday). He didn’t do anything. When I say on the field, he was out there urging some kids on and things like that. So I don’t know.”
Lee had to come off the field early in the fourth quarter during Penn State’s 31-6 win over Temple last Saturday. He suffered a sprained left knee – opposite of the torn ACL in his right knee that sidelined him for the entire 2008 season.
Bowman, meanwhile, has missed all but four snaps this season while recovering from a nagging groin injury. The junior has returned to practice in a limited capacity, but like Lee, his status for the Iowa game is still cloudy.
“Navorro was out there, practiced (Monday) for about a third of the practice,” Paterno said. “I’m anxious to see how he feels today to see whether that thing got sore or not and whether he can go a little bit more (Tuesday). But you don’t want to stick him in there when he’s not really 100 percent, because … I’d hate to have him get an injury because he can’t move as well as he should.”
The lone remaining healthy starting linebacker for the Lions, Josh Hull, was more optimistic. The senior said Tuesday Bowman looked to be his old self while commenting that the doctors would have to “chain (Lee) to the bench” to keep him from playing.
If both Bowman and Lee can’t go on Saturday, Paterno said Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu would take their spots, respectively.
If Bowman plays and Lee sits, however, the No. 4 Lions (3-0) could opt to keep Stupar as the third starter, as the sophomore has practiced at both outside positions this year.
Though both of those backups now have some starting experience, it’s far from an ideal situation headed into the Lions’ first serious competition this season.
“I’m worried,” Paterno said. “Now we have one of the three (starters healthy). Hull is in there with a couple guys who haven’t played a lot of football, and there’s an awful lot of weight put on his shoulders. So I’m not comfortable with the depth, no.
“I think Stupar is a kid that can be good. He’s a little bit erratic right now. Sometimes he makes some plays, does a good job, others not so hot. Gbadyu is pretty much like Stupar. … There’s not a consistent quality performance there, so Hull has got a tough job trying to keep that thing all together. He’s got to be the leader, when I don’t think he expected that he would have that kind of responsibility with Lee and Bowman around.”
Bowman practiced again on Tuesday, as did junior receiver Graham Zug, who sat out parts of the Temple game after apparently taking a shot to the head. Lee was a spectator for the second straight day.
A video posted by Penn State online Tuesday declared Bowman and Zug probable for Saturday, with Lee classified as doubtful. How much of that is just gamesmanship from the Lions remains to be seen.
“I don’t really know if we’re going to have either one of them,” Paterno said. “Obviously when you prepare for a game, (at some point) you’ve gotta say, ‘Hey, they’re not gonna be here,’ and you’ve gotta get somebody else ready.
“But you keep your fingers crossed that maybe you’re gonna have one or both of them.”