June 30, 2011

Numerous players try to return from injury

One of the basic tenets of football is that injuries are a part of the game.

Another basic tenet: Some injuries hurt more than others - and not necessarily in a literal sense.

It's one thing when a projected backup linebacker is lost for the season; it's quite another when a stud cornerback such as Arizona State's Omar Bolden or a starting defensive end such as Penn State's Pete Massaro go down during spring practice with knee injuries that likely will keep them off the field this fall.

Injuries of that nature send coaching staffs scrambling to find fill-in players. Sometimes those fill-in players do a great job; sometimes coaches count the days until the injured starter returns.

In that vein, here's a look at 15 players who missed at least 75 percent of the 2010 season because of injuries but now are healthy and expected to play big roles for their teams this fall.

By no means is this an all-inclusive list, just a sampling of the large number of players attempting comebacks.

One name missing is that of Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers. He's not on it because his health for the fall remains an unknown.

The injury: Knee, missed season
The buzz: Bolden was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009, when he ran for 935 yards and scored 11 TDs. He also was a good receiver out of the backfield. But he tore the ACL in his right knee during 2010 spring practice, which was a huge blow to Purdue's offense. (The Boilermakers also were without star WR Keith Smith for the season and projected starting QB Robert Marve for eight games.) Bolden still was rehabbing his knee and missed spring drills this year, but he is expected to start this fall. His return would provide a big lift for the Boilermakers. He and QB Rob Henry would give Purdue two dangerous running threats.
The injury: Shoulder, missed 11 games
The buzz: Borland was an unheralded recruit who made a big splash as a true freshman in 2009, winning Big Ten freshman of the year honors. He played in all 13 games and started six; he had 54 tackles and finished third on the team with five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He also has five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Coaches raved about his attitude and instincts, and he entered the 2010 season as a preseason all-league choice. He played in the opener against UNLV but sustained a shoulder injury. He missed the second game, then came back in Game 3 but reinjured his shoulder in the first quarter against Arizona State and missed the rest of the season. He also missed spring ball but is expected to start in the middle in the fall.
The injury: Broken leg, missed season
The buzz: He started six games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and had four games with at least five tackles. Coaches expected continued growth last season, but he was injured in fall camp. The Huskers were able to compensate by going almost exclusively with a nickel package; it helped that JC transfer Lavonte David exceeded expectations at linebacker. This season, with the move to the Big Ten, the Huskers plan to be a conventional 4-3 team, meaning Fisher will line up on the outside opposite David. Fisher is a big guy (6-6/235) who can stuff the run and also drop into coverage.
The injury: Ankle, missed 11 games
The buzz: He was going to be the SEC's "other" A.J. Green(e) last season. Instead, unlike the Georgia wide receiver, this Greene played early in the season, then missed the rest of the year. He was the Tigers' starting right tackle until being injured in Game 3 against Clemson. His healthy return would be a huge boost to an Auburn offensive line that has to replace four starters. This season, Greene is expected to be the left tackle.
The injury: Foot, missed season
The buzz: Jones had a solid sophomore season in 2009, coming up with four sacks and 11 tackles for loss, and he looked as if he could challenge for All-Pac-10 honors in 2010. Instead, he was injured during fall camp and missed the season. UCLA was mediocre on defense last season, and coaches hope Jones' return means the line will have a playmaker this season.
The injury: Knee, missed nine games
The buzz: Keenum threw for 5,671 yards and 44 TDs in 2009 and was primed for a huge season in 2010. But he was injured in Game 3 while trying to make a tackle after an interception, and Houston's season spiraled out of control. He was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA because he also missed the 2006 season with an injury. Keenum is healthy now and his return gives the Cougars a solid chance to win the Conference USA title. He has a legitimate chance to set NCAA career marks in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes; as it is, he is one of just two quarterbacks in NCAA history (along with Texas Tech's Graham Harrell) to have two seasons with 5,000 passing yards.
The injury: Knee, missed season
The buzz: Larmond was expected to make the jump from complementary receiver to go-to guy last season. But he was injured during fall drills, and BC's passing attack suffered greatly. With a new quarterback, no one expected the Eagles to have a potent aerial game, but Larmond's loss made the situation worse. BC finished with just 13 TD passes. Larmond is back and ready to go, which should make BC TB Montel Harris happy. Harris is a potential 1,400-yard guy if BC can prove it has some semblance of a legitimate passing attack. Larmond has excellent size (6-3/210) and the speed to be a deep threat.
The injury: Knee, missed nine games
The buzz: Lockett was expected to contend for All-SEC honors as a senior last season; instead, he suffered a torn ACL in Game 3 and missed the rest of the season. He's a big-play guy at end, and his health is vital for a rebuilt Ole Miss line. He was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA, as he also missed the 2006 season with a shoulder injury. If he can return to his 2009 form - when he had 10 tackles for loss and five sacks to go with 39 tackles - he'll provide the Rebels with a stabilizing force on a line that is going to have a rebuilt interior. Ole Miss lost its best linebacker, D.T. Shackleford, for the season because of a torn ACL in spring practice.
The injury: Knee, missed season
The buzz: Love was an important part of an inconsistent USF passing attack in 2008 and '09, and was primed for a big senior season in 2010. But he suffered a torn ACL in the spring game and missed the season; he was granted a sixth year of eligibility because he also missed the 2006 with a thumb injury. USF has had a spotty passing attack the past two seasons, but Love's return lends hope that the Bulls can develop some consistency in that area. He should be their go-to guy this fall.
The injury: Wrist, missed season
The buzz: Patchan was a five-star recruit out of the Tampa area in 2008, but he has had an injury-marred career. He played in 11 games as a reserve defensive tackle in '08, but he missed the final three games of the season - including the Gators' BCS national-championship game win - with a leg injury. He moved back to his natural position of offensive tackle in 2009, but blew out his knee during a non-contact drill in practice in early October and missed the rest of the season. Then he missed last season with the wrist issue. He also has suffered injuries in two scooter accidents, one in the spring of 2009 and another this March when a car ran into him and another player. In addition, he was shot in the shoulder while a bystander in May 2008 in a Tampa-area park; he had enrolled at Florida in January and he was home on a school break. His health is important to a rebuilt Gators offensive line this season. He is penciled in as the starting right tackle on a line that will have four new starters.
The injury: Ruptured quadriceps tendon, missed season
The buzz: After serving as a backup as a redshirt freshman in 2008, Rivers moved into the starting lineup and had a solid season in 2009, finishing second on the team with 96 tackles. But he suffered the quad injury in offseason workouts in early 2010, had surgery and missed spring ball and the season. He'll be back in the starting lineup this fall, and his physical nature should help the Hokies improve their run defense. If he can regain his 2009 form, he and Bruce Taylor could give the Hokies the best linebacker duo in the league.
The injury: Achilles, missed season
The buzz: Sanni was an important reserve for the Illini in 2009 and scheduled to start last season. Instead, he suffered a right Achilles tendon during fall camp and missed the season. He's a big guy (6-3/220) who can run, and his return allows Tavon Wilson to return to his natural position of cornerback after filling in for Sanni at strong safety last season. If Sanni is healthy and lives up to expectations, the Illini should have one of the better secondaries in the Big Ten.
The injury: Foot, missed season
The buzz: Solomon is one of the leading sack men in Rice history, and his move to tackle from end was supposed to help solidify a weak Owls defensive front last season. But he suffered the injury in a non-contact drill last summer, and missed the season. He had a pin inserted into his right foot during surgery last fall. He moved back to end in spring drills and will be one of the best defensive linemen in Conference USA this season. It's hard to imagine Rice having a top-notch defense, but Solomon's return still provides a huge boost to a Rice front in desperate need of a playmaker.
The injury: Hamstring, missed 13 games
The buzz: Wilson was the Gamecocks' leading tackler in 2009 with 85, but he injured his hamstring on the first day of fall drills last season. He missed the first three games, then returned for Game 4 against Auburn. But he reaggravated the injury against the Tigers and missed the rest of the season. The Gamecocks lost both starting linebackers from last season, and Wilson and senior Rodney Paulk - who has had injury issues of his own during his career - are expected to start this season. Coaches like Wilson's knowledge of the defense and his run-stuffing abilities.
The injury: Foot, missed season
The buzz: Woolfolk was expected to be the leader of the secondary for the Wolverines last season. Instead, he and fellow projected starting CB J.T. Floyd missed the season with injuries, which meant a lot of young guys were thrown into the fray before they truly were ready to play. Woolfolk - the son of former Wolverines TB Butch Woolfolk - and Floyd are healthy now, giving new coordinator Greg Mattison a veteran tandem at corner. Expect much better play from the Wolverines' secondary this season.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.


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