Not surprisingly, Joe Paterno and his doctors are having a bit of a disagreement.
Paterno is now more than three weeks removed from a hospital stay after he injured his right arm and hip when receiver Devon Smith collided with him during a practice. The 84-year-old coach was adamant earlier this month that he would “absolutely” be on the sideline for Saturday’s opener against Indiana State.
On Tuesday, Paterno appeared at his weekly press conference walking gingerly with a cane and downgraded his chances of being on the field this weekend to “50-50.”
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Paterno has been eager to prove his toughness this season – he had called out his players for being too soft just hours before his own injury occurred – but it’s hard to imagine he will be anywhere but the coaches booth during the game this week.
“I’ve got some medical people who want me upstairs, and I want to be downstairs – that being upstairs is for the birds,” Paterno said. “(Upstairs), you just don’t seem to be in it. I like to be on the sideline and get a feel for things and be able to grab a kid and tell him to do certain things. So I’m gonna try hard to be on the sideline.
“I’ve made good progress. I’m walking around with the cane. I probably could get by without the cane right now. But I can’t move fast yet. And I’d have trouble getting out of the way of some things. … But I’ve got a couple more days before I have to really make up my mind what I’m gonna do.”
Two players who missed preseason camp for disciplinary reasons – tailback Stephfon Green and kicker Anthony Fera – have been back practicing with the team, though both may still sit out at the start of the season.
“Well, Green had gotten in a couple of situations, some of it was academic – some of it, otherwise,” Paterno said. “And I had told him until I was sure that he understood that he had certain responsibilities, I was not gonna let him out for football. I wasn’t gonna let him out on the team.
“So he went to work and he proved to me that he deserves another shot, and he’s getting another shot.”
The Nittany Lions still have plenty of options at tailback, with Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum expected to carry most of the load in the running game.
Things are more dicey with the kicking game. Fera may have been in line to handle punting, field goal and kickoff duties, but it doesn’t sound like he will do anything on Saturday.
“Anthony got himself into a couple of jams, and he should know better,” Paterno said. “I told him I was gonna sit him out – make sure he understands he’s got some responsibilities to himself, his family and to the squad and to the whole program.
“And he’s a good kid. It wasn’t anything really serious in the sense that he harmed anybody. But he broke a couple of rules. So we’re just gonna play that one by ear. When he’s gonna play, I honest to goodness couldn’t tell you whether we’re gonna use him. We’ll watch how he does things, make sure he’s behaving and the whole bit and then make my mind up.”
Paterno mentioned Alex Butterworth and Evan Lewis by name as replacements at punter and kicker, respectively.
Other than quarterback, one other position battle is still up in the air as the opener nears.
Paterno said his biggest concern headed into the season is the Lions’ depth on the offensive line. One choice to make is whether to go with senior Johnnie Troutman or sophomore John Urschel at right guard. That would mean senior DeOn’tae Pannell would start at left guard.
All three will likely see time with the first team on Saturday.
Paterno said team captains had been voted on, but as the coaching staff makes the final decisions on that, nothing official was announced on Tuesday. Paterno said he had yet to tell the players what the results were and that he needed to do that before making the picks public.
An announcement should come either today or Thursday.
Senior safety Nick Sukay hinted that there was a debate on whether to have season-long captains, game-by-game captains or both, possibly explaining the delay.