Upper St. Clair graduate Lee next in line at 'Linebacker U.'
By Sam Ross Jr.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Tom Bradley takes minor issue with those who paint Sean Lee as Penn State's presumptive next great linebacker, poised to prove this fall that he's up to following in the footsteps of recent All-America picks Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. "I think he's a great linebacker now," said Bradley, the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator. "I know what he can do. Maybe people don't know his name as much as the other guys. But if he stays healthy, they'll know his name." Lee, the Upper St. Clair graduate who will be a senior this fall, made a splash as a freshman, subbing for an injured Posluszny in the fourth quarter of a triple-overtime win victory over Florida State in January 2006 in the Orange Bowl. Since then, Lee, has played, alternately, in the shadow of Posluszny and Connor. But Posluszny departed for the NFL after the 2006 season, and Connor played his last game for the Nittany Lions in December in San Antonio, leaving Lee to carry on the tradition. Lee set the tone by carting off the defensive MVP award from that Alamo Bowl. As Penn State works through its first week of spring drills, Lee has to fill voids left by Posluszny and Connor, both on the field and off it. There has been much speculation about whether Lee will follow the Posluszny and Connor examples, moving from outside linebacker to inside for his senior season. "I'll do whatever they (coaches) want," Lee said. "The positions we play are fairly similar. A lot of the same things, a lot of the same blocks." Bradley dismisses the speculation over a possible move as overblown. He noted the abundance of spread offenses and the need for a defense to spend more time in specialty packages, such as nickel back, rather than in its base. "Sean was inside about 90 percent of the time anyway," Bradley said. "They spread it out so much, when we go to the nickel, Sean was inside most of the time. Sean's not a one-dimensional guy. We'll play our three best guys. If the third-best guy is a middle linebacker, you'd hate to have him on the bench because we want to have Sean in there." Lee already has followed the Posluszny and Connor model and assumed a leadership role. He was one of the players who held team meetings to address the need for better discipline this year. Arrests and legal fallout dogged the team in 2007. This spring session is progressing without defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, linebacker Navorro Bowman, defensive back Knowledge Timmons, wide receiver Chris Bell and tight end Andrew Quarless, all of whom have been suspended for various transgressions. Linebacker Tyrell Sales, who had charges filed against him in Pittsburgh that were tossed out last week, is practicing. "There were a lot of distractions last year, and we just basically (said) 'We have to get our priorities straight.' " Lee said, recalling the message. "We know what we're capable of, and we don't need any distractions. We kind of wanted to start fresh in the winter, and I think we've done that." Penn State completed its second consecutive 9-4 season in 2007 and won its third consecutive bowl game. The defense ranked in the top 15 nationally in rushing defense (No. 7, 93.8 yards a game), scoring defense (No. 7, 17.5 points a game) and total defense (11th, 308.2 yards a game). That defense must replace Connor and standout cornerback Justin King. "I'm sure we'll take a look at a lot of different things this spring and see what we're comfortable with," Bradley said. "We're looking for young people to emerge and challenge. Competition is not a bad thing. Depth is not a disease."
The tradition continues