Freshman Agnew back for Beavers

CORVALLIS — The youth movement is on at Oregon State and no one has bigger shoes to fill than Malcolm Agnew.

The true freshman tailback is the heir apparent to former Beaver Jacquizz Rodgers, who moved on to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons this year after three seasons as the focal point of the Oregon State offense.

Agnew rushed for 223 yards in his debut, the Beavers' season-opening loss to Sacramento State. However, he pulled his hamstring three days later in practice and has missed the past two games.

The Chesterfield, Mo., native was cleared to practice Tuesday and is expected to suit up when the Beavers go looking for their first win of the season Saturday night at No. 25 Arizona State (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12).

"I am feeling pretty good," Agnew said. "I'm about 90 to 95 percent. Throughout the week of practice I should keep progressing and getting better."

In Agnew's absence, the Beavers have struggled running the ball, gaining just 23 yards on the ground at Wisconsin and 88 against UCLA. During those two games the Beavers have employed a committee of backs, including freshman Terron Ward, sophomore Jovan Stevenson and junior Jordan Jenkins, and none of the three has been consistently effective.

Oregon State coach Mike Riley suggested some of the blame for that lies with an inconsistent line. Offensive tackle Mike Remmers agreed there have been problems with run blocking.

"It's always seemed like we're just one guy short or one thing went wrong and ruined the whole play for us," he said. "We're working really hard to get everyone on the same page and get it put together."

At 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds, Agnew has a similar build to Rodgers and his 33 carries against Sacramento State suggest he has the endurance to be a featured back.

The question is whether his legs have the durability. Agnew suffered multiple hamstring injuries in high school, including one which cut short his senior season. He said Tuesday that his recent injury may have been related to scar tissue remaining from his previous injuries, and that doctors have used lasers to treat it.

"I don't know what it does," he said. "But it works."

Riley decided to be cautious with Agnew, holding him out against UCLA even though Agnew said he wanted to play. Agnew acknowledged that his hamstring is likely to be in the back of his mind when he steps on to the field.

"I am just looking forward to that one time where I'm not thinking about it, so I can say, 'It's OK.' I'm ready to go,'" he said. "Once, I get that I'll be good."

The Beavers (0-3, 0-1 Pac-12) have played 17 first-time starters this season. Several other freshmen have already been staples of the Beaver rotation, including defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn, cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, safety Ryan Murphy, receiver Brandin Cooks, and Sean Mannion, who has supplanted 2010 starter Ryan Katz at quarterback.

Agnew has the weight of expectations on him.

Rodgers, who rushed for 3,877 yards and scored 51 touchdowns in his career, was one of the greatest players in Oregon State history, along with predecessors Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson and Yvenson Bernard. Agnew's breakout performance in his first-ever game set the bar pretty high, and he has anxious Beaver fans awaiting his return.

Agnew has genuinely seemed unconcerned about that, saying he is simply excited to play again Saturday because the game is on TV and it's his first road game. He noted that Arizona State is very good, and said there is no sense in dwelling on Oregon State's slow start.

"Our heads are up," he said. "We're still working hard and working toward our goals."

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