Rodgers' return lifts Beavers
Dynamic co-captain says he's pain-free, ready for some 'fun'
CORVALLIS - James Rodgers' expected return to the Oregon State lineup Saturday against UCLA at Reser Stadium is a good thing for the Beavers.
How much of a spark the 5-7, 190-pound flanker provides for the 0-2 Beavers remains to be seen.
Will he be the dynamic player who served as one of the nation's premier multi-purpose weapons in 2008 and 2009?
Or will the fifth-year senior perform like an athlete who underwent the second of two surgeries on his left knee in February, only 7 1/2 months ago?
'I don't think it will be a problem,' Rodgers said Tuesday. 'I wouldn't come back if my knee wasn't feeling good.'
It will be Rodgers' first game since he suffered the awful knee injury in the second quarter of a game at Arizona last Oct. 8 - on a 56-yard touchdown reception that was nullified by a penalty.
'It will be really fun to get back out on the field with my teammates,' Rodgers says. 'I don't feel any pain (in the knee). It will be a matter of just getting back out there and getting used to it.'
Through spring practice and summer training camp, Rodgers has served as a mentor to his younger teammates and an unofficial coach for head coach Mike Riley and Brent Brennan, OSU's first-year receivers coach.
Now it's time for Rodgers to return to the field and start making plays again.
'James has worked hard every day since he hurt the knee,' junior receiver Jordan Bishop says. 'I'm looking forward to having him back. We're all looking forward to having him back. He has always been one of our leaders.'
Rodgers, who missed Oregon State's first two games, has looked sharp running routes and taking handoffs for the fly sweep during practice in recent weeks. He has shown no limp since before training camp started in August.
But Riley has proceeded with caution in allowing the return of Rodgers, mindful a potential NFL career might be in jeopardy if he comes back too quickly.
Rodgers' practice performance in recent weeks convinced the coach.
'I talked to the doctor (Tuesday night) and we're 1,000-percent good,' Riley says. 'I've seen him grow tremendously over the last month and a half - from doing little in camp to doing everything now.'
Rodgers is one of Oregon State's co-captains. His presence is reassuring to his teammates for a number of reasons.
'It's exciting to have a player of James' caliber coming back,' Riley says. 'He has always brought a certain energy to what we do that is special. It's great to have him back, getting in the huddle and playing with this team.'
The leadership issue might be as important as the plays Rodgers makes on the field.
'It's a big one for us, to get James back,' senior D-tackle Kevin Frahm says. 'We have so many freshmen in big-time roles, having some older guys to keep the keel even, to prevent the ups and downs, is very important.'
Rodgers' presence will make it easier on other OSU wide receivers such as Bishop and Markus Wheaton.
'James being out there opens it up for other receivers,' Bishop says. 'He'll draw that much more attention (in coverage) that will allow the rest of us to make plays.'
Rodgers has made a lot of them through his storied career.
As a freshman, he turned the fly sweep into a signature play for Oregon State, carrying 50 times for 586 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime against Oregon. He rushed for 115 yards and scored two TDs in an Emerald Bowl victory over Maryland.
As a sophomore, he was a first-team all-Pac-10 special-teams selection, accumulating 1,833 all-purpose yards - third-most in OSU history.
As a junior, he was a first-team all-Pac-10 choice at receiver, setting a school record with 91 receptions.
Rodgers enters this season ranked second nationally among players for career all-purpose yardage. He needs 44 receptions and five TD catches to set school career records.
'James will go down as one of the great players in Oregon State history - and maybe the most versatile,' Riley says. 'As far as the number of things he can do in a game, there's nobody better.'
Rodgers says he won't be concerned about reinjuring the knee.
'I won't really even think about that,' he says. 'I'll just go out there and play at the level I can play.'
Judging from history, that's a pretty high level.