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September 14, 2012

Sinclair energized for debut

The beard isn't quite to Brett Keisel length just yet, but by the end of the season, Robert Morris quarterback Jeff Sinclair hopes it comes close.

"Fear the beard," Sinclair said. "I'm going to let it go all season. We'll see how it goes."

Sinclair is hoping his beard can eventually rival Keisel's in one other way: Team success. Keisel, the stout defensive end for the Steelers, became famous for his impressive facial hair during the Steelers' 2011 Super Bowl run. Sinclair would love to accept his second Northeast Conference championship trophy with his own untamed scruff.

It'd be a bit of a redemption story for Sinclair, who will make his season debut against Dayton. The senior quarterback hasn't played since last November during a loss to Central Connecticut State. First there were the two games he missed due to a knee injury suffered against the Blue Devils. Then there was the two-game suspension he served to start this season, the result of an off-field incident back in the spring.

"It's been a while. I'm just so excited to get back out there and play again," he said. "Monday night, I was real nervous, real excited, couldn't sleep. I was ready to come out and practice and be back with my boys."

It's not just about missing the time for Sinclair. An energetic force on the field, sitting through the last two games while healthy because of an off-field mistake was especially painful.

"It was unbelievable. I was up in the press box in the last game, watching it in the conference room, and it was just so frustrating," he said. "It's so hard watching, not even to be out there in battle with my guys. I would much rather me be out there and us losing than sit back and watch. It's the hardest thing I've been through in a while. I'm just real glad to be back."

While Sinclair was away, he ran the scout team, prepping the Robert Morris defense for North Dakota State and Albany. Now that he's back with the starting group, Sinclair inherits an offense that put up just ten points in eight quarters under inexperienced sophomore QB Matt Layman. Layman made his second and third career starts against NDSU and Albany, while Sinclair will make his 28th against the Flyers. The veteran hopes his experience and his ability to run provides a boost.

"I think it's a little bit of my versatility to get out of things and my leadership," Sinclair said. "I think some of the guys look up to me and it's a little different attitude when I'm under center."

The leadership comes from experience, but it also comes from owning up to mistakes on the field. Prior to his injury, Sinclair was the first to say he needed to play better last season. After tossing 22 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions while throwing for 1,920 yards as a sophomore in 2010, Sinclair threw for 1,373 yards, 11 TDs, and 10 picks in 2011. It was a step back for a player many expected to be an NEC Player of the Year candidate.

While discussing Dayton and the need to avoid mistake-free football, Sinclair mentioned a sequence that defined his play in 2011.

"A couple times, I made a few rookie mistakes last year. We're on the 15-yard line (against Dayton) and I get a 15-yard sack and we're out of field goal range," Sinclair said. "Those are mistakes I need to improve on, not trying to do too much, throw the ball away. I realize that."

It's gone unsaid, but Sinclair might need to showcase that improvement Saturday because those around him may not be completely up to speed to adjust. This will be the first time he hits the field without security blanket Shadrae King, who graduated in the spring. He'll also be without Rickeem Jackson, lost for the season to a broken foot, and without Quinton Pirl, who suffered a shoulder injury against Dayton.

Out of the five likely receivers RMU will use Sunday - Donte Jeter, Duane Mitchell, D.J. Pearson, Warren Fields, and D.J. Hayes - only Jeter has experience at the position beyond the past two games. He and senior tight end Paul Evans are the only targets Sinclair will have with significant playing time.

"They're all great receivers. Now they've got to step up. Everyone has to take their role and we all have to get better," Sinclair said. "I'm confident as all heck in them, just like they're all veterans. I'm not going to treat anyone different. I'm going to throw to whoever's open and I have confidence in every one of them."

Confidence is something Robert Morris could use on offense. Sinclair might have to be the one to inject it in his team when he takes the field for the first time Saturday.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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