By JOHN SLEEPER
SEATTLE – Rock Nelson hesitated slightly when asked how his back felt.
“Pretty good, man,” said the Washington Huskies’ 290-pound junior tackle. “Hey, I’m playing.”
For a time, the prospects of Nelson playing at all weren’t good. A herniated disk kept him out of the majority of fall camp, and he didn’t play at all in the Huskies’ first two games, against Idaho and Miami.
In fact, UW coach Rick Neuheisel questioned whether Nelson would play again.
So it was a surprise to many observers to watch Nelson in on about 30 snaps against Colorado. And now, it appears that Nelson, a Shorecrest High School grad, will play extensively Saturday against Oregon.
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for Nelson. After the Huskies beat Colorado, he was able to take a few practices off to rest and heal. The soreness wasn’t limited to his back. His body was screaming from the pounding he hadn’t felt since the early days of fall camp.
“It was fortunate that we had a week off to let him rest,” Neuheisel said. “He was just plain football sore. But he’s played himself into good shape and he’ll be available for considerable action on Saturday.”
It’s a remarkable comeback for Nelson. The only time his back would hurt was when he moved. Or when he breathed. Or when he slept. Or when he sat. Or when he stood.
“There was a point when I wasn’t sure when I’d come back,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s kind of a mysterious thing. Sometimes it feels good, sometimes it feels terrible. Lately, it’s been better. It hasn’t been great, but better. It’s almost back.”
Hooks has not practiced this week. But if specialists give him the green light, Hooks may play.
“It’s really out of our control as coaches,” Neuheisel said. “It’s really up to the doctors, their feeling comfortable about him being able to participate. The last thing in the world you want to have happen is have anything go wrong with somebody’s heart.”
Other than Hooks, the Huskies appear to be at near-full strength. Linebacker Ben Mahdavi (ankle), reserve safety Owen Biddle (ankle) and nose tackle Ossim Hatem (elbow) may be available against Oregon.
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