Ryan Taylor might not be playing tonight. He wasn’t wearing pads at the upper sports complex this week. Still, the Cal Poly sophomore’s attire said it all.
Unable to practice because of a back injury, the Mustangs receiver sported a green T-shirt with a “CP” logo that read, “Nothing hurts when you win.”
It’s an appropriate slogan considering how many Cal Poly players were hurt in the final weeks leading up to tonight’s season opener against visiting Humboldt State, the start of year two under head coach Tim Walsh.
Taylor is among a few Mustangs players that will be held out, but he is part of a bigger injury list that includes several key contributors who will be suiting up with nagging strains and sprains.
A victory over the Division II Lumberjacks could help everyone forget about them for a while.
Cal Poly will get its first look at West Virginia transfer running back Mark Rodgers, who did not gain academic eligibility in time to take handoffs in the team’s only intrasquad scrimmage two weeks ago.
Rodgers has track sprinter’s speed and a Football Bowl Subdivision pedigree that points to him being a major contributor, just like receiver Dominique Johnson was after transferring from UCLA last season.
Johnson led the Mustangs with 43 catches for 741 yards despite suffering a shoulder dislocation and partial labrum tear early in the year. He’ll be out tonight because of an NCAA ruling rather than an injury.
Still, the list of offensive players who missed practice time because of day-to-day injuries or were held out for precautionary measures is long.
Despite joining the team almost two weeks into training camp, Rodgers has looked fast, but he hasn’t been running behind Cal Poly’s first-team offensive line very often.
Five of the Mustangs’ top six offensive linemen have been banged up. Several didn’t play in the scrimmage, during which quarterbacks Tony Smith and Andre Broadous both sustained leg injuries while battling for the starting job.
Broadous, still hobbling this week with an ankle sprain, took longer to recuperate, and that helped tip the scales toward Smith, who will be starting tonight — as he did every game in a 4-7 season in 2009.
Despite the injuries, the only offensive lineman not expected to play tonight, Walsh said, was right tackle Art Munoz, who is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered in the second game last season.
“I feel strongly that we’ll be as good as we can be healthwise (tonight),” Walsh said. “It’s a concern from a timing standpoint, but from the experience standpoint, most of the guys that aren’t practicing are guys that have 15-16 games that they’ve played, and they have great game experience.”
They’ll be going up against a defensive front made up of three seniors and Oregon transfer Andrew Iupati, the 6-foot-1, 310-pound younger brother of San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati.
“They’re supposed to be real good,” Cal Poly senior guard Will Mitchell said. “We’re not too concerned with that because it doesn’t change our game plan. It doesn’t matter who lines up — you can put eight in the box, whatever — we’re going to run our offense, and we’re going to adjust to it on the fly.”
Walsh has continued to run the triple-option offense, a scheme instituted by former coach Rich Ellerson in 2007.
Coaches have also added a shotgun option package in the offseason that could see its debut tonight.
His injury caused him to fall behind backup Doug Shumway on the depth chart, but Broadous excelled running the shotgun formation during spring drills. Broadous could still see action against Humboldt State, Walsh said, under one condition.
“We want to make sure if he plays this week, it’s because he’s 100 percent,” Walsh said. “If not, then Doug’s ready and Tony’s ready, and we feel very confident that they can do what we need them to do to win the football game.”