Green ready to make up for 2007
Texans running back looks to bounce back from injury Sunday, July 27, 2008
Chronicle News

Texans running back looks to bounce back from injury

Successful professional athletes don’t go gently into the good night. They are, it seems, genetically programmed to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Ask Brett Favre.

Ask Ahman Green, too.

Green is adamant his aborted first season with the Texans was the function of bad luck and worse timing, considering he was injured in the season-opener. It had nothing whatsoever to do with his age, the fuel left in his tank or his level of motivation. He says he intends to prove this to skeptical Texans fans come September, if he can just survive the next few weeks.

Like most veterans, certainly those who are on the back side of 30, Green makes no bones about his distaste for the summertime grind.

“Training camp,” he said, “is for the birds. But, otherwise, I feel great. No pain. No hesitation. I’m full go.”

Participate in camp he must, however, and those with the greatest stake in his return to form insist no Texans player is more committed to sweating buckets in the Houston sauna than the 11-year NFL veteran.

“We’re expecting big things out of Ahman Green,” general manager Rick Smith said. “But I don’t think we expect more than he expects from himself. Football’s very important to Ahman. Nobody was more disappointed about what happened last year than he was. He’s had a tremendous offseason. He has worked extremely hard this offseason to rehab, to prepare himself.”

Adds head coach Gary Kubiak: “I have a lot of respect for him. I know what kind of career he’s had, what he’s always stood for, what kind of work ethic he has brought to every team he’s played for. We know what he’s capable of. We have to be smart with him. We’ll work him once a day (in camp).”

Now 31, Green signed a contract with the Texans in the spring of 2007 that would guarantee him $6.5 million. As things turned out, he didn’t do much after taking a helmet blow to on the outside of his left knee in the opener against Kansas City. The resulting bruise made a bust of him. He played in only six games, gaining 260 yards on 70 carries.

The pain and resulting weakness robbed him of the leg power that had made him a 1,000-yard rusher in six of seven previous seasons in Green Bay. The problem was, the damage could not be easily seen or quantified. What he needed was an extended period of rest, a luxury players can ill-afford during the season. So he last carried the football in the season’s ninth game — Nov. 4 at Oakland.

By trying to force the issue and return before he was ready, Green only kept setting himself back, although many impatient Texans fans came to have a different perception of what was going on. It was a very wrong perception, says Kubiak, who also insists he appreciated Green’s candor in telling him he couldn’t give his best.

“(The injury) wasn’t going to get well unless he took a break,” Kubiak said. “It’s hard for people to understand. They think, ‘if you can’t play, why aren’t you having surgery?’?”

Except there was nothing torn or broken that could be fixed. It was a deep, debilitating bruise packaged with a bit of psychological baggage. In Green Bay, a ruptured quad tendon in his right leg had scuttled his 2005 season and Texans trainer Kevin Bastin points out, “that was probably a little bit on his mind.

“If Ahman played another position,” Bastin said, “he could have gotten by. But his kind of injury becomes a big problem for a running back. We tried multiple treatment options. We just couldn’t get him to where he could compete effectively. He didn’t have the (leg) explosion you need at this level.”

Kubiak was left to cobble together a running game with journeyman Ron Dayne and a revolving door of lesser lights. Although the now-departed Dayne was surprisingly effective, the Texans went a franchise-best 8-8 more in spite of the Green-less backfield than because of it. It’s hoped his return to good health, the addition of veteran newcomer Chris Brown and new offensive line coach Alex Gibbs’ radically different blocking schemes will deliver quantum improvement as they attempt to make the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

“Is it a necessity that we run the ball extremely well to become a better football team? You bet,” Kubiak said.

So, does it then follow that the Texans need a 1,000-yard season from Green?

“I don’t want to put it all on one guy, but somebody’s probably got to be the guy and step up and do that,” Kubiak said. “But (whether) we do it as a group or with one individual, it doesn’t matter to me. I just know we’ve got to run the ball well.”

Although Green is hardly the first running back to play into an 11th NFL season, these waters haven’t been overly charted. Luminaries such as Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders all walked away earlier. But, if Green needs inspiration, he needs to look no further than the late Walter Payton or Marcus Allen.

Payton ran for 1,551 yards in his 11th year and led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl championship. As for Allen, while his 11th season wasn’t much to speak of (67 carries, 301 yards), he averaged 740 yards over the five that followed.

Green doesn’t sound too interested in any of those statistics, though. He knows his own mind and body, and that’s enough.

“In terms of getting ready for the season,” he said, “the hunger’s there. I’ve still got the drive. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. When I get to the point I don’t — it could be tomorrow or three years from now — I’ll know it. Last year was one of those years. But I don’t look back, even if I had a good year. I’ve always got blinders on. So I’m eager every year.”

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