NEWTON, Mass. -- For athletes, sometimes the most painful part isn’t the injury itself, but the forced idleness. The sudden, unexpected truth that you can do nothing concrete to help your team win.
Bobby Swigert has experienced that feeling this season, sitting out the Eagles’ first three games with a knee injury.
He wanted to stay on top of things, even though he was forced to watch games from the sideline or from the couch. So he would sit in his room, writing out the plays in new coordinator Doug Martin’s offense over and over again. If he couldn’t take the physical reps in practice and run the routes in games, he’d make sure he knew them as well as he could when he finally got back on the field.
The junior wideout is back on the practice field now for BC, first suiting up during the bye this past week, and working his way back into game shape.
“I’m full go right now with everything,” he said before practice Wednesday. “So I’ve got a full week of practice ahead of me. Hopefully we can get my knee to 100 percent before the game, and it feels pretty good right now.”
BC coach Frank Spaziani said there’s been some rust to knock off, but no apparent physical issues with Swigert.
His teammates, especially good friend and quarterback Chase Rettig, are happy to have him back.
“I’ve missed him,” Rettig said, “so I think we’re looking forward to having him back, and just having a good week of practice with him so he’ll be ready to go when he comes back this weekend.”
The QB and the slot receiver developed quite a connection in their sophomore season, connecting 44 times for 470 yards and three touchdowns. It often seemed that whenever Rettig needed to get the ball away in a hurry he was able to find Swigert open over the middle.
“It feels like we just picked up where we left off,” Rettig said of that connection. “He looks pretty good so far, we’re just trying to help him out as much as possible and I’m sure he’ll help this offense out a lot.”
Though by his own admission he knows the running game much better than he knows the passing game, left tackle Emmett Cleary is pumped up to have Swigert back in the Eagles’ arsenal.
“He’s big,” the 6-foot-7, 313-pound Cleary said of the 6-1, 186-pound Swigert. “I just watched the tape recently of our game last year and he killed Clemson. Like, they couldn’t cover him. So I’m very excited about having him back. It’s just another weapon.”
Swigert had seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown against Clemson last season, and had another long reception called back by a penalty.
Cleary said Swigert just seemed to know how to get open against the Tigers’ man defense.
“They have confidence that their guys can go one-on-one and then they just wanna stack the box,” the left tackle said. “And if single guys can’t hold up in coverage then we’re gonna have big plays, which you saw last year with Bob.”
Swigert remembered that game, a 36-14 road loss, calling Death Valley an “awesome place to play at.” He praised the Tigers’ athletes and said their scheme is pretty straight-forward.
“What they like to do is just test their DBs and say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna play you man. If you can beat us, beat us, but if not we’re gonna stack the box and shut you guys down in the run game,’” he said.
The wideout says he loves the challenge presented by such man coverage, loves feeling that if he can just beat his man consistently he can help the team in a tangible way.
It’s been hard for Swigert to sit and watch. He’s tried to be a leader, even though he’s not on the field. When things get tough, he’s tried to be a calming presence for the younger Eagles.
But he couldn’t help being frustrated, especially when he saw the numbers the Eagles have been able to put up in the passing game through the first three weeks.
“I’ve just been really antsy to get back on the field,” he said. “We haven’t really thrown the ball this well since I’ve been here. It’s been frustrating the past two years getting the ball downfield -- we’ve had a lot of big plays this year, which is a lot different.
“[I’m] just really, really excited to get back on the field with this new offense and see what I can add to the offense and what we can do from there.”
The Eagles, long a running team first and foremost, are tops in the ACC in passing yards per game (317.0, just ahead of Duke’s 315.5) after three games. They’ve thrown the ball 128 times and run it just 96, partially because they’ve been behind in games and partially because the run game is averaging just 2.99 yards a carry while passing attempts are averaging 7.4 yards a pop.
Alex Amidon has emerged as a real threat in the passing game in Swigert’s absence, leading the conference in yards per game (122.0) and being named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. So that’s led to some changes now that Swigert is healthy again -- the career slot receiver is now lining up primarily on the outside.
“It’s a product of when he was away some other guys doing some things,” Spaziani said of the shift. “He gives us a little different options. Bobby can do some different things that other guys couldn’t, so it gives us some flexibility.
“The potential of the receiving corps is a lot better than we’ve had here in my four years. It’s starting to come to fruition, so hopefully they stay healthy and get better,” he said.
Considering how well he did against the Tigers last season, Spaziani was asked if there could be a better opponent to get Swigert back for.
“Obviously this is an important game against a very good football team,” he said. “The more weapons you have, the better off you are. Having Bobby back is a plus.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.