Lions' Hayes making progress toward return

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If and when Jerome Hayes gets on the field for Penn State this fall, one thing will be certain.

"He won't be on any punt teams," Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "He's not covering punts."

Hayes has had some lousy luck in his career, suffering season-ending torn ACLs on punt coverage in each of the last two seasons. In 2007, he appeared in seven games for Penn State and recorded 2.5 sacks before tearing his right ACL against Wisconsin. His 2008 season lasted barely one game, as he tore his left ACL after being chop-blocked in the fourth quarter against Oregon State in Week 2.

Two major knee injuries doesn't inspire much confidence in Hayes for the coming season, but Bradley is seeing good signs from the senior defensive end/linebacker.

"I think he'll be OK," Bradley said. "He's a resilient type of kid. He doesn't complain much about it. What little I've seen him do some things on the treadmill, he looks OK."

Hayes could play a crucial role on Penn State's defensive line, which boasts loads of young talent, but not much experience on the edges.

Bradley and the other coaches knew that defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans were considering leaving early for the NFL draft, but they "never felt that both of them would go. We probably would have recruited another guy there at defensive end had we had known."

There's a lot of excitement about sophomore Jack Crawford, and sophomores Kevion Latham and Eric Latimore also should see time at end. But with Pete Massaro's season-ending knee injury in the spring game, Penn State could use a veteran presence like Hayes.

"It's not only Jerome on the field," Bradley said. "He's just a strong presence in our locker room, too. He's a kid from Bayonne (N.J.), he's graduated, nothing was handed to him, works his tail off. He's a very strong presence in our locker room as far as being a leader and a guy that the players rally around."