by: ©2006 STEVE BRENNER, Junior Rob Freeman, the Vikings’ starting quarterback with Sawyer Smith and Tygue Howland injured, “is an extremely competitive guy,” coach Tim Walsh says. “He waited patiently for this chance.”

A revolving door exists at quarterback, but Portland State could be closer to whole offensively in the near future.

Not only will injured tight end Brent TenBruggencate make the trip to Weber State for Saturday's game, but all signs point to Mu'Ammar Ali's returning to the Viking backfield for the Sept. 30 game against Montana at PGE Park.

His broken clavicle has been healing, coach Tim Walsh reports, and doctors will take an evaluation X-ray on Monday. If the bone has 'calloused' enough, Ali could be cleared to play. The 5-8, 200-pound Ali, feared lost for the season when he broke the shoulder blade in training camp, has been practicing full speed - running plays, catching balls, taking handoffs - albeit without contact.

'I'm looking at him extremely optimistically,' Walsh says. 'If it hasn't calloused, it's still soft bone.

'At a certain time, it'll be Mu'Ammar's decision. Today, if you watched him, you would say he could play. He's got full range of motion and no pain. He's ready to play this weekend.'

Quarterback Sawyer Smith suffered a bruised tailbone and abdomen muscle damage in last week's loss at California, but Walsh says the big senior will make the trip to Ogden, Utah. It's a matter of healing time for Smith; he has restricted movement and 'at his position, he wouldn't be able to play unless he was 85 to 90 percent (healthy),' Walsh says.

'He pushes off with the inside part of his leg, where the groin and abdomen connect,' which could irritate the injury.

With QB Tygue Howland out for the year, after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Cal, the starting job falls to junior Rob Freeman. He and Howland had shared the No. 2 duties, depending on the day or week.

Walsh and his family have known Freeman and his family for many years. Sean Walsh, the coach's son, and Freeman attended St. Pius X School in Portland and played youth basketball together; daughters in the families also are friends.

It's been a difficult situation at times, Walsh says, serving as Freeman's coach and family friend. The 6-2, 225-pound Freeman, who attended Westview High, 'is an extremely competitive guy,' Walsh says.

'The team respects him an extreme amount,' the coach adds. 'He had come to grips with Sawyer being the No. 1. He stayed with the program - it wasn't about Rob, it was about the football team. He waited patiently for this chance.'

Two things Walsh likes about Freeman: 'He's pretty accurate. He's come a long way on his run-game checks.'

Danny Morales, a transfer from Santa Ana Junior College, will serve as the No. 2 quarterback. He's a JC All-American, 'but he hadn't played up to that level,' Walsh says. 'He's a smaller guy (6 feet) who needs to be perfect out there.'

Walsh says Tremayne Kirkland's role as option QB could be expanded, but not beyond 10 to 15 plays. He still needs to play receiver.

Best-case scenario has the Vikings getting by Weber State for the third consecutive year and then returning to play Montana with both Smith and Ali available.

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