For Mark Richt, Henderson’s injury and those of several similarly afflicted Bulldogs feels like a sharp pain just a little north on the anatomy.
“It is frustrating,” Richt said. “It’s very frustrating.”
Mikey Henderson would lead the nation in punt return average if not for his injury, and No. 1 widereceiver Mohamed Massaquoi was held out of last week’s game due to strained hamstrings. Both players think they’ll be able to play Saturday when the No. 9 Bulldogs (3-0) take on Colorado (0-3).
They say “think” because with the hamstring there’s no being certain, hence Richt’s frustration. It’s the tornado of the sports injury world, no way to know when it’s coming and no way to know when it’ll leave.
“It’s completely frustrating because you just can’t do anything,” Henderson said.
The most bedeviling part for Richt is that the best source of information on hamstring health is the players themselves, players who have been taught since they picked up a ball to “tough it out” and “play hurt.”
“The players have got to understand the hamstring, too,” Richt said. “That’s one of those injuries you just can’t have that tough-guy mentality. They think, ‘I can suck it up; I can go.’ And then when they go, and it gets more and more fatigued, then they get a pull.”
Even when coaches think they’re being careful, as they did in limiting Henderson’s work before the first game, problems can arise.
“You’re gradual and you’re gradual and then all of a sudden you get in the game, and it’s competition, and they make a sudden move and boom – they pop it,” Richt said.
Hamstring is the common name for a group of three muscles (the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris) that extend down the back of the leg from hip to knee and help people straighten their leg at the hip and bend it at the knee.
The most common way to injure them is with repeated strain, Richt said. That’s why receivers are afflicted most often.
“They run more than anybody on our football team,” Richt said.
Massaquoi, Henderson, Demiko Goodman, A.J. Bryant, Kris Durham and Michael Moore all missed time during the preseason due to sore hamstrings.
The problem doesn’t magically disappear after college, either.
Terrell Owens’ hamstring made ESPN’s SportsCenter almost every night of the preseason as speculation grew and grew about when the Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver would be able to return to the field. Carolina’s Steve Smith and Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward, a former Bulldog, missed every exhibition game for their teams due to hamstring injuries, and Smith has yet to see the field.
Georgia’s coaches did their best this preseason to limit their receivers work and prevent the problem they are facing now, Richt said. He brought in extra walk-ons at wide receiver to run routes during practice. The coaches even considered making receivers take one out of every four days off to rest but decided that would only put more pressure on the wide receivers practicing, Richt said.
In the end, he settled on a strategy of pestering.
“Believe me, I’m asking them about it all the time,” he said.
If hamstring injuries are more common now than ever, as the Bulldogs’ recent run would suggest, it’s probably a result of a change in defensive philosophy, Richt said. Before tight, man-to-man coverage became vogue in the sport, wide receivers had time to gradually run into a route and were relatively unimpeded along their way.
That has changed, dramatically.
“Its more of a struggle to run routes,” Richt said. “You have got a guy banging on you the whole time. Every second of that route is a competitive situation. In the past, you just weren’t getting banged around. You weren’t having to strain as hard. I think that has a little bit to do with it.”
Until he finds a crystal ball, though, he won’t know for sure, and he also won’t know when he’ll have two of his most dangerous players back in the lineup.