Heat causes Paterno to alter Lions' practice regimen
A year after two players with Big Ten ties collapsed and died during summer workouts, Penn State coach Joe Paterno has altered his preseason camp routine.
Korey Stringer, an Ohio State grad who was with the Minnesota Vikings, and Rashidi Wheeler of Northwestern were victims of intense heat during practice sessions. Their deaths have caused college and pro coaches to take a more cautious approach.
For years, the Nittany Lions worked out in the morning and afternoon during preseason camp. This year, Paterno switched to a shorter afternoon session and another in the evening.
"We are creatures of habit, but I think it has worked out all right," Paterno said. "A lot of it had to do with the heat."
Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, who now weighs about 310 pounds after being as heavy as 380, said players are aware what happened last summer.
"I keep it in the back of my mind, just because I'm a big guy," he said. "I know that sun beats on you out there. I cramp up just thinking about it.
"I let my body be my guide. If I'm fatigued or feel like I'm out of it, I won't work out. I'll do the minimum, do some light cardio (workouts) and lift, and the rest of the day, I'll sit around and hydrate myself."
The change to later workouts has had other benefits.
"I've been able to hold 295 (pounds) througout camp, which I wasn't sure I'd be able to do," guard Tyler Lenda said. "The new schedule has helped me hold the weight better than before.
"When you're out there in the morning, it's tough to be real alert. Waking up at 7 o'clock and putting the pads right on, you don't have any time to wake up and get yourself adjusted to the day. Our practices at night have been real intense and enthusiastic."
DECISION DUE ON WEIMER
Freshman Stephanie Weimer of Elizabeth will know by the end of the week if she can join the team as a walk-on. A mass tryout for non-invited walk-ons is set for Wednesday afternoon.
"The walk-ons she will be (trying out) with <#201> are kids who we do not know a lot about and have not looked at tapes of them," Paterno said. "They are kids who have written to us who just had a desire to walk on."
Weimer is trying to become the first female player in Penn State history. A kicker at Serra Catholic, her career-best field goal was from 36 yards out.
She is, at best, a long shot to make the team.
"You have to be careful (with walk-ons) because we are courting the Title IX dilemma," Paterno said. "If we have 130 kids out, that is accounted for in the proportionality part of Title IX."
FINALLY, A VETERAN LINE
The offensive line, a trouble spot since the mid-1990s, took shape quickly in camp. For the first time in a decade, the Lions will start five seniors in their season opener.
Lenda, left tackle Gus Felder, center Joe Iorio started every game last season. Eric Rickenback will start at left guard. Matt Schmitt (Hampton) is set at right tackle.
"We're much more comfortable and much more confident," offensive coordinator Fran Ganter said. "They're all bigger, they're all stronger and there is no substitute for experience. They've all played and been in tough games."
Nick Marmo (New Castle) is listed as the third-string center.
"I am hoping Nick Marmo is going to get good enough that I can plug him in there," Paterno said. "Right now, David Costlow would be second (string)."
BIDING HIS TIME
Paterno is quick to remind people that sophomore Zack Mills still is an inexperienced quarterback. Mills started four games last season and relieved Matt Senneca in six others.
However, should Mills go down with an injury, Penn State would turn to redshirt freshman Michael Robinson — who has never thrown a pass in a game.
"He would be an excellent backup," Paterno said, "except for the fact that he doesn't have any experience."
Somehow, Paterno must find a way to allow Mills to develop and also get Robinson some action.
"You hope (Robinson) can get in a game in different spots so he gets his feet wet," Paterno said. "I don't have any plans to use him in x-number of plays or put him in under this kind of a situation or that kind of a situation. We will try to get him as good as he can be, day by day."