STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – With so many players hurt, having to choose between four healthy options at quarterback might be the least of coach Joe Paterno's concerns at Penn State.
About 18 players are limited or sitting out spring practice in Happy Valley, continuing the rash of bad medical news that has spilled over from 2010.
Among the most seriously hurt are starting defensive end Pete Massaro, out for 2011 with a left knee injury, and receiver Curtis Drake, out for spring with a left leg injury. There's a chance Drake may miss the year, too, Paterno said.
"Nowadays, we have so many injuries. You go out there today and you'll see five, six, seven players who haven't done a thing," Paterno said Friday. "We've got a whole mess of kids getting hurt."
At least Paterno was back in his element, doing the job he's held a record 45 seasons. Shuffling across the indoor practice facility in a gray sweatshirt and his familiar khakis, the 84-year-old Paterno made a beeline for the offensive linemen after watching the unit from afar take shots at tackling dummies.
He barked, "You hit like old ladies!"
He wasn't quite as colorful when asked about a recent off-field issue. Paterno declined to comment about a Thursday report in The Patriot-News in Harrisburg of a state grand jury investigation into allegations that his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, indecently assaulted a teenage boy in 2009. The newspaper reported it spoke to five anonymous sources with knowledge of the case.
"We came here to talk about football," Paterno said.
Sandusky has not been charged. A grand jury examines accusations to determine if evidence warrants filing charges. Sandusky's attorney Joseph Amendola, has said the former assistant, who retired in 1999, "has steadfastly maintained his innocence."
Paterno also sidestepped a question about his contract. A three-year extension agreed to in 2008 expires after this season — though both he and the university have said a Hall of Famer who has held his job for four-plus decades doesn't necessarily need something in writing to keep his job.
"Do I have a three-year extension? I don't even know what I got," joked Paterno, major college football's winningest coach with 401 victories. "If you don't win some games, you won't have a future."
Drake and cornerback Derrick Thomas, who were cited by police this week for summary disorderly conduct in connection with an off-campus scuffle in February, don't appear to be in too much trouble with the coach, famed for his doghouse of wayward players. Thomas, the former nickelback, is in the mix as a reserve corner, and Drake hobbled on to the field on crutches about 30 minutes into practice.
Among other notable injured players are starting linebacker Nathan Stupar, who injured his left hamstring last week, and veteran tailback Stephfon Green, who hurt his right shoulder in Wednesday's practice. Defensive end Jack Crawford remains hobbled by a right foot injury that hampered him last season, while fellow end Eric Latimore is limited after re-injuring his left wrist.
At quarterback, though, Paterno has healthy bodies. The two who started last season, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, are neck-and-neck atop the depth chart, though there's no apparent rush to make a decision.
"I don't think there has to be a clear No. 1 going into the summer," Paterno said. "I think we have to have a couple kids who feel like they have a shot at being No. 1."
Penn State isn't ruling out last season's third-stringer, Kevin Newsome, or redshirt freshman Paul Jones, either, though they appear to be longshots.
Bolden and Newsome both considered transferring. Paterno said Newsome could leave, and that he hoped Bolden would return in the fall.