Coaches and players down-played Ell Roberson's injury for weeks, and when the senior quarterback returned from hand surgery he did just the same. Being knocked out of the McNeese State game and watching the Wildcats get upset by Marshall, he said, were far more painful.
When he returned, however, it was hard to say Ell was just Ell. Roberson struggled in his first game back -- partially due to a raucous DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, but more likely due to the inevitable rustiness that comes with missing nearly a month of the season.
But just maybe it could be argued that the criticism placed on his shoulder is unfounded. After all, it wasn't his 5-of-18 passing performance against Texas that cost them the win, it was a multitude of problems including a freshman-sensation named Vince Young, penalties and offensive miscues, and a defense that has uncharacteristically struggled in 2003. Those same problems also cost the Cats against Oklahoma State, when Roberson threw for 332 yards -- the first time a K-State quarterback has passed for over 300 yards in a game since Jonathan Beasley on Oct. 23, 1999. In fact, that total is 16th best in K-State history.
But the interceptions tend to gloss over the yards and completions -- 20 of them against Oklahoma State. That, K-State coach Bill Snyder said, is unfair.
"He's got a lot to do, and he's probably a guy that wants to do that," he said. "He carries a major load on his shoulders. I can appreciate him for that. Maybe he tried a little more than normal (to create things against Oklahoma State), but as I said before, when you have someone that has those kinds of gifts, there's nobody on my staff that's going to address that."
Perhaps that's abnormal for Snyder, to heap praise on any one player. Yet Roberson is something special, that rare breed that can strap the entire team on his shoulders and carry them to victory -- even if it hasn't happened yet in 2003.
"He makes too many good things happen," Snyder said. "There's freedom there for the extremely talented players who have the ball in their hands. But perhaps it does create some mistakes you don't want to happen."
But again, those mistakes are best attributed to the rust of a lengthy injury -- not owed to Roberson's athletic or quarterback ability. That hand injury still affects him even today, he said, if only in the most subtle of ways.
"As far as me taking off at time when i wanted to run, I'd sit back in the pocket and not risk someone hitting it," Robeson said. "I was somewhat hesitant. It takes away from your physical skills. But it's a whole lot better now. I got the confidence now."
That confidence may be exactly what the Wildcats need for the remainder of the season.
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