EUGENE - First it was his knee, then it was a virus. Oregon quarterback Justin Roper returned to practice this week with the goal of regaining the starter's job.

Roper injured his left knee in the Ducks' victory at Purdue on Sept. 13. He was expected to return to play at USC last weekend, but came down with an illness.

While he was gone, Jeremiah Masoli took over as Oregon's starter, with freshmen Chris Harper and Darron Thomas backing him up.

Roper himself was named the team's starter in the week before Oregon's opener when Nate Costa injured his knee in practice and had season-ending surgery.

The question at this point is how much Roper will play Saturday night when the Ducks (4-2, 2-1 Pacific-10 Conference) host UCLA (2-3, 1-1).

"I don't know what to expect. I'm just pushing to be the starter like I was before the season started," Roper said.

Coach Mike Bellotti was waiting to see how the week of practice played out.

"Depending on how he does, it will determine a little bit more every day what reps are earned," he said. "The nice thing is, we have another veteran quarterback that has a confidence level and a comfort level with the system, so to speak, and if he's able physically to execute the things, then certainly we're way ahead."

Roper's return could mean that Harper would see more work at wide receiver. Harper played in the position against Washington State, and for one snap against USC.

Bellotti said Harper approached him about playing more at the position last week, but the Ducks were wary of exposing him to injury.

"But now that Justin's back, and hopefully healthy, certainly his availability for spot play at other positions, or quarterback or wide receiver, is certainly on the table," the coach said.

Roper said he has confidence in his knee.

As for the illness, that's still something of a mystery.

"They tested for strep and mono. The strep came back negative, so we thought it would be mono. Then I got better Thursday and Friday, and I fully recovered over the weekend," Roper said. "It was just a viral tonsillitis or something."


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