What a strange year it has been for George Rogers.
He came here in April, finally free of the New Orleans Saints, ready to run behind the kind of line running backs dream of running behind. He knew he would have to share time and perhaps have to wait a full season for his shot, but was he ever happy just to be here, to be coming to a winner, to be playing for the Washington Redskins.
Taking inventory more than seven months later, we find George Rogers in the locker room with his head down, pulling on his sweat socks and mumbling something about a "weird" year.
"If I ain't fumbling, I'm getting injured," he says, knowing neither is something a good running back should be doing too much of.
And Rogers is a good running back. He has become the Redskins' starter with three games to go in a 7-6 season. That offensive line he craved has begun to cave under the weight of at least 12 injuries to different parts of different linemen.
"I haven't been doing the things I'm supposed to have been doing," he said yesterday at Redskin Park, three days after Coach Joe Gibbs told him he would start over John Riggins Sunday at Philadelphia (6-7).
In his first four pro seasons, Rogers had sixteen 100-yard games. He has had just two in 1985: 104 yards against St. Louis and 124 against Atlanta. He has fumbled five well-publicized times and been banished to the sidelines after almost every one.
Still, his average on 137 rushes is 4.7 yards, better than any of the four previous seasons, and a sizable chunk above Riggins' 3.8-yard average.
Yet Rogers might as well have spent his season on a treadmill, to hear him tell it. "I haven't gotten to prove myself here," he said. "These next three weeks are gonna determine what kind of future I have here, how much I'll be playing, what they'll think of me."
Rogers, 26, yearned for time and space to run, not the workmanlike shifts he and Riggins, 36, shared earlier in the season.
Then, when injuries came (Rogers has a laundry list of them: sprained lower back, sprained shoulder, sprained ankle, mild concussion), Riggins took over and Rogers sat and shook his head.
After one attempt to make Rogers the starter for good (or at least for a week) went awry because of the concussion and ankle sprain in Pittsburgh, he sat last week and now gets another chance against the Eagles this weekend.
Riggins, who might be playing his last season, joked two weeks ago that he felt like a "yo-yo."
Gibbs understood. "I think you open yourself to criticism over how much George had played in relation to John," he acknowledged. "That's mine. I accept it. But the picture was complicated by fumbles and injuries."
He added he knew both running backs like to play "a little more straight in a row."
Last month, Rogers said he believed his fumbles stemmed from the time he spent on the bench.
"It's kinda hard to play three backs (Keith Griffin has the best average of all at 4.9 yards per carry) and figure out who's going to play," Rogers said. "It would have been easier if somebody had been playing outstanding."
Still the second-best rushing offense in the league, but fading fast, the Redskins only can hope Rogers gets rolling before the season ends.
Said Gibbs: "Maybe he can stay healthy here and really gain some yards."
Said Rogers: "That would be nice."
If center Rick Donnalley (broken hand, sprained shoulder) and guard Russ Grimm (sprained ankle, bruised knee) are able to play Sunday, they likely will be reserves, Gibbs said. Neither practiced yesterday.
Left linebacker Mel Kaufman returned to practice after missing Wednesday's drills with the flu.