STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -Sean Lee kneeled to deadlift a giant tire, flipped it over and threw it down with such force it bounced up off the practice turf, allowing the linebacker to repeat the move with ease.
How did his repaired right knee handle it? Just fine.
After missing the 2008 season because of an anterior cruciate ligament tear, the Penn State linebacker is back to join Navorro Bowman in one of the top linebacker tandems in the nation.
``I can't wait to be playing football, smelling the grass ... putting the pads on, getting the nicks on your nose from hitting,'' Lee said. ``I'm just excited to go through it again.''
And that was Lee just chatting after an offseason weightlifting charity event. Now back at practice, he's elated to be in his beloved blue-and-white uniform, storming up and down the practice field with Bowman, eagerly looking forward to making up lost time.
s calm off-field demeanor and passionate in-game persona.
``Once he get comfortable and he's sure he's OK, I think he will obviously be a big, big factor in helping us to be good because he knows how to play,'' Paterno said. ``So he's somebody we're hoping will be 100 percent back to where he was before he got hurt.''
The return also presents Paterno with a pleasant dilemma heading into 2009 - where should Lee play?
If history dictates, Lee would move from outside to the middle, a path worn in recent seasons by Penn State's then-top linebackers - Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. Lee, a finance major, certainly has the smarts and leadership ability to play the middle.
Like the two seasons when Posluszny and Connor were teammates, Lee has a linebacking complement in Bowman, an athletic terror who stepped up to lead the Nittany Lions with 106 tackles last season while Lee was out. Bowman, like Lee, can play multiple positions.
``We've got a lot of versatility, we've got people who can play a lot of different places. Sean gives you versatility. Bowman gives you versatility,'' defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. ``We got a lot of depth where we can move people.''
nd miss this season.
With Mauti out, senior Josh Hull is a strong favorite to join Lee and Bowman at linebacker. While Hull struggled at times last year starting in the middle, he figures to benefit from a year of experience.
The first-string lineup in the early days of camp had Lee and Bowman flanking Hull. Paterno has said Hull would be more suited inside in Penn State's 4-3 defense because Lee and Bowman play better in space.
The trio give Penn State a linebacking corps that is the strength of a defense that has question marks in the secondary (four new starters).
This is Linebacker U., after all.
Dennis Onkontz, Greg Buttle and Shane Conlan are among the notable names to have played linebacker at Penn State.
Another great, LaVar Arrington, is mentoring Bowman, and Arrington has had such an influence that his star pupil has switched his jersey from No. 18 to Arrington's old No. 11.
A junior, Bowman could bypass his senior year for the NFL if 2009 turns out to be as successful for him as 2008, though the linebacker said last week he was focusing only on this season and becoming ``more of a student of the game.''
His athleticism is evident as he tracks down opposing tailbacks and quarterbacks from behind, with the ability to rove from sideline to sideline.
tted to a judge in court that he smoked marijuana - a violation of the probation he was on as punishment for his role in a campus fight the previous year.
Bowman also had to deal last year with the unexpected deaths of his father, and his friend and high school coach. But the player appears to have won over Paterno again after a stint in JoePa's infamous ``doghouse.''
``I think that he realized he's wasting a great opportunity in his life. In all fairness to the kid, he had a lot of bad things happen to him,'' Paterno said. ``I think he's been all business. ... I don't think we have any problems with him.''
With Mauti down, Bani Gbadyu and redshirt sophomore Nathan Stupar, a special teams standout, will be counted on to provide linebacker depth.

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