Depending on how you look at it, Joe Paterno was either a few minutes late or a few weeks early for his news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The presser was supposed to start at 3:15, but the normally punctual Penn State coach didn't amble down the steps of the Lasch Building's Squad Room until 3:23. When he got to the front of the room, he apologized for keeping everyone waiting.
Still, by Paterno's estimate, even 3:23 was too early to be discussing the Nittany Lions' outlook this spring. The team had had only three practices to that point, he protested, only one of them in pads. Said the coach, I think this press conference is ridiculous, to be frank with you.
Ridiculous or not, it went on for 20 minutes, with Paterno offering an overview of the Lions' objectives this spring and recapping some of the team's winter developments. Among them
The quarterback situation, a topic of some interest following Daryll Clark's graduation, is entirely unsettled. You were expecting otherwise? Paterno said he's been paying careful attention to sophomore Kevin Newsome to see how he conducts himself in the huddle and to watch his development close-up. Paterno said Newsome, who attempted only 11 passes last year, is coming along.
He's got a ways to go, Paterno said, but he's made progress.
Walk-on sophomore Matt McGloin is also in the mix, but Paterno said he has not tried Brett Brackett at the position yet. The fifth-year senior was a backup quarterback before being switched to wide receiver, and Paterno said in January he could end up going back to his former spot to help shore things up. Paterno also said he hasn't seen much of Paul Jones, the highly regarded quarterback recruit who enrolled in January to get a head start on his college career.
Those interested in finding out who will line up under center for the season opener against Youngstown State will likely have to wait until August, maybe even September. For now, Paterno said, the goal is to just get them comfortable, find out what they can do and try not to give them more than they can handle. Every year is a little different. If we have to modify some things we do offensively to adjust to their ability, we will. But we don't know that. We're going into the season with the idea that we have some really good prospects. We'll see what happens from there.
Chaz Powell is playing defense this spring after spending last season at wide receiver. Paterno said he didn't know whether the redshirt junior would fit in best at safety or cornerback. He's a good athlete, Paterno said. He could play offense or defense.
Another defensive back, D'Anton Lynn, may be moved to safety after playing cornerback last season. He could probably play corner or safety, Paterno said. We're trying to get a feel for the team and where he would fit in.
Linebacker Michael Mauti, expected to contend for a starting position before injuring his knee last August, is taking part in spring practice but is not participating in contact drills. Safety Drew Astorino, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, is out this spring. Running back Brandon Beachum may take part in some noncontact drills but will not be at full strength as he recovers from knee surgery.
Special teams are going to be an area of emphasis following a season in which the Nittany Lions' lapses in the kicking game proved costly in losses to Iowa and Ohio State. Obviously, we have to do a little better job on punt coverage, Paterno said. That hurt us last year in two tough football games. We'll try to find out if some guys might do a little better job on coverage and that kind of thing.
I think that's a high priority for us, to do a better job with our punt game.
Paterno was noncommittal about the future of defensive tackle Brandon Ware. He has to prove to me he's going to do the job academically, Paterno said. I think he's getting control of his weight
but he's got a long road to go academically before I'm going to think about playing him.