WSU Football | Gary Rogers: new offense under new coaches
Through the past four years of Washington State football, through Alex Brink's records and his warts, there was a clamorous faction convinced somebody else should be under center. Belatedly, they're getting their wish.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PULLMAN — Through the past four years of Washington State football, through Alex Brink's records and his warts, there was a clamorous faction convinced somebody else should be under center.
Belatedly, they're getting their wish. Saturday at Qwest Field, Gary Rogers is the man for WSU, a new guy running a new offense under new coaches.
More than the usual curiosity surrounds Rogers. Here's the book on him:
Height? Check. He's listed at 6 feet 7.
Arm? Check. If not the equal of Drew Bledsoe, he lights up the Jugs gun.
Feet? Better than Bledsoe.
Résumé? Well, next question.
Rogers, a fifth-year senior, has been the dutiful clipboard-holder and ballcap-wearer for WSU. The coaches of the Bill Doba regime were heavily persuaded Brink was the answer, even as the cacophony sounded around them.
The opening game at Auburn two years ago provided fodder for the debate, as well as optimism for the Cougars, who begin Rogers' senior season against Oklahoma State.
With WSU struggling to stay in it in front of 85,000 War Eagle partisans, Rogers came on in the third quarter and the Cougars emptied the backfield. Bing, bing, bing — he zipped five passes for 85 yards, climaxed by a 50-yard score to tight end Cody Boyd.
What happened next was almost as startling: Just as writers fired up stories about a quarterback controversy, Brink came back in and Rogers sat until garbage time.
"I was encouraged by the way I played," Rogers said after a recent WSU practice, "but I was definitely a little puzzled as to why I didn't stay in the game. They chose to go back to Alex, and that's the way it went."
Rogers doesn't spend a lot of time grinding an ax. But he does turn quizzical in saying, "It's difficult when you're feeling it and they pull you and we have a chance to win the ballgame."
And there the matter stayed, through two more years. Brink had his moments, good and bad, and Rogers remained pretty much fastened to the bench. He has thrown only 52 career passes, twice as many in 2006 as last year.
"It was a good experience, but frustrating at times, knowing I can have a great game and still be the No. 2 guy," Rogers said. "So I had to come in each and every day and play hard, as if I'm the No. 1 guy. I tried to get into the mindset of looking forward. I knew my time would come."
Now it's his time, and there isn't much physically he can't do.
"He looks the part," says all-league receiver Brandon Gibson. "He can thread a lot of needles a lot of people can't."
Wielding the baton over WSU's biggest offensive change in 21 years is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy, who played some quarterback himself. The resemblance to Rogers ends right there.
Sturdy might be 5-8. He has to squint to see Rogers.
At NAIA St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, Sturdy ran the split-back veer. He's put Rogers in a 21st-century, multiple, no-huddle offense.
Sturdy is Midwest, Rogers is West Coast, born in Seattle, bred at Kamiak High in Mukilteo.
They are of one accord on this:
"I'd love to have him have a fantastic year," Sturdy says.
Sturdy learned a lot of his football in his very first job as a grad assistant at St. Ambrose, working for Ray Jauch, a former Iowa running back and CFL coach. Eventually, he took up with a hurry-up attack designed to attack and fatigue defenses.
Why the quick tempo? Sturdy likes the increased practice repetitions it affords, not only for the starters but the backups. In itself, it's a conditioning tool. The change of pace can be unsettling to a defense.
The offense might flatter the more mobile quarterback, but Sturdy insists Rogers can be a fit.
"We want a guy that can throw it, hands down," he says. "He's got to be able to be a great passer."
Still, the playbook suggests Rogers will run once or twice a game.
"He doesn't have to be a tailback playing quarterback," Sturdy says, "but we're going to do it just enough that they're going to honor it."
WSU will put Rogers under center to broaden the running game, but he'll also spend a lot of time in shotgun. He'll throw on the run, a part of his game he can improve.
The notion of wearing down the defense, of course, only works if 320-pound offensive tackles are fit enough to do it.
"I save you 14 yards a play," Sturdy tells the big hogs. "Seven yards back to the huddle and seven yards back to the line of scrimmage. That's a long way if there's 75 plays."
With the departure of Brink — who is trying to hook on with the Houston Texans — Rogers assumed an offseason leadership role that impressed his teammates. He also has Sturdy squarely in his corner.
"Number one, what a great individual," Sturdy says. "Top-shelf. That became apparent right away. Ability-wise, he's got a lot of tools. He's got a great arm, and for a taller kid, surprising mobility.
"He's played very little, but he's got a ton invested. I think he's looking forward to cashing in on that investment."
Rogers is more reserved than fiery, more Bledsoe than Ryan Leaf.
"He's had a calm presence," Sturdy says. "I haven't seen him get real rattled. But he hasn't been 'live' yet, either."
That comes Saturday for Rogers, no longer carrying a clipboard, but a lot of his team's hopes.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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