Why aren't the Nittany Lions worried? Surely a little free-floating anxiety and an acid stomach or two should be detectable around State College. This is a team that was picked clean by the NFL, losing three All-Americas in last spring's draft. Quarterback Kerry Collins, running back Ki-Jana Carter and tight end Kyle Brady were Penn State's heart and soul, and three of the first nine players selected. A team can't just reload after that, can it?
Maybe the Nittany Lions can. That would explain their lack of concern. Believe it or not, they harbor hopes of surpassing their accomplishments of last season, when they merely went 12-0 and won the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl. Just what else can they expect? "Nothing less than a national championship," says Bobby Engram, the All-America receiver and fifth-year senior who returned to pursue that goal. "We have the nucleus."
The Nittany Lions are smug about junior quarterback Wally Richardson, who has been groomed to take over for Collins. Richardson, who is 6' 4" and 211 pounds, possesses as strong an arm and even more mobility than his predecessor. He lacks only big-game experience.
Replacing Carter, who was the first player taken in the draft, will be Mike Archie, who at 5'8" and 202 pounds is squatter and a step slower than Carter but more versatile. In addition to scoring five rushing touchdowns last fall, he caught 22 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a couple of passes, completing both for TDs. Archie would have been a star by now had he not spent three years backing up Carter.
There is little cause for mourning over the loss at tight end, either. Yes, Brady is gone, but his replacement, junior Keith Olsommer, is 6'4", 245 pounds and nearly as good a blocker. As for the wideouts, Engram and junior Freddie Scott may be the best one-two punch in the country. Coach Joe Paterno, in fact, refers to them as "a couple of Jerry Rice types."
There are some question marks, however. Penn State lost much of its linebacking corps, and while the coaching staff likes the young talent at the position, those players will need a few games to settle in. And Richardson must turn out to be everything the Lions hope he is if they are to seriously contend for the national title.
After the completion of spring practice, Paterno was asked by reporters if Richardson was ready to take command of the team. "I don't know why you guys are so worried about Wally," he said. "This is his fourth year, for crying out loud. Jeez. He'll handle the whole load. You guys tell me we only have three plays anyway."