CINCINNATI (AP) -Wearing a bright red No. 15 jersey that was supposed to protect him from hits in practice, quarterback Tony Pike took a snap in shotgun formation Tuesday and soon got bumped off-balance by a charging defensive player.
The Cincinnati Bearcats thought: Oh, no!
Pike instinctively prevented himself from falling by extending his left arm - the one with the forearm covered by a soft cast - to the ground. Then, he took stock of what he felt.
The forearm, which is held together by a plate and six screws, didn't hurt at all.
Three weeks after he broke his non-passing arm, the Bearcats quarterback was back taking snaps in practice, planning to start next Saturday at Connecticut. It's a huge boost for Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0), which has gone through four quarterbacks because of injury.
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Pike's sooner-than-expected return has calmed the Bearcats' biggest worry. They lost senior Dustin Grutza to a broken lower leg and sprained ankle during a 52-26 loss at Oklahoma in the second game of the season. Two games later, his junior backup broke his arm after he threw a pass.
The Bearcats have survived behind redshirt freshmen Chazz Anderson and Zach Collaros, pulling out a 17-15 win at Akron, a 33-10 victory at Marshall and a 13-10 win over Rutgers on Oct. 11. A bye week gave Pike just enough time to get the arm back into playing shape.
``He hasn't exhibited the rust that I thought might be there after having two weeks off,'' coach Brian Kelly said. ``It's still a matter of how's it going to be after that first hit. You have a question there. I can't answer that question. Tony's ready to play, he's cleared to play. But if he gets hit on that arm - ouch, it's going to hurt.''
Pike will wear a soft, removable cast that stretches from just above the wrist to just below the elbow. The training staff has told him not to put his left hand down to try to break his fall when he's being tackled. Otherwise, he's cleared to run a spread offense that has been forced to play it safe the last few weeks.
on out there.''
Pike got hurt in the fourth quarter at Akron. On a second-and-8 play from midfield, he scrambled to his right to avoid pressure and saw receiver Mardy Gilyard get open for a 14-yard catch. When Pike released the ball, a defender's helmet drove into his arm.
``I stopped my momentum to throw it, and my left arm was kind of wedged up against my pad,'' he said. ``The helmet hit directly on the radius (bone) and broke it all the way through. It went numb for a little bit. I went to get up and saw it was pretty disformed.''
Doctors initially thought he could be out for up to two months, but the injury has healed quickly, allowing him to get back to practice. He has a 4-inch scar along the inside of the forearm where doctors inserted the plate.
The two injured quarterbacks have spent the last few weeks doing physical therapy together. Grutza also got back on the field Tuesday, though he was limited to a few simple drills. If his recovery continues on schedule, he could be available in a few more weeks.
``The next two or three weeks will determine to a large degree who our quarterback is,'' Kelly said. ``If Tony Pike goes out there and leads our football team and shows a high level of play, then the decision's harder. It doesn't mean Dustin wouldn't be our starter, but it makes it harder. If Tony goes in there and doesn't play very well, obviously it makes it easier. So it's going to have to play out over the next two or three weeks.''

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