ATHENS — There were two standout images of A.J. Green’s 2010 debut last Saturday: The magnificent first catch, leaping and grabbing the ball with his left hand, and Green running in and later out of the locker room, getting treated for cramps.
The catch was a reminder of what Green can do for the Georgia football team.
The cramps were a reminder that in recent years, Green has been a bit brittle.
Last year, Green suffered a bruised lung against Florida and missed the Tennessee Tech game. Green came back for the Auburn game, when he hurt his shoulder. He missed the Kentucky and Georgia Tech games.
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Green played through a hip flexor almost his entire freshman season. And head coach Mark Richt said Green was not full speed in Tuesday’s practice, with lingering problems from the cramping.
Before this season began, Richt said the only thing his star receiver had to do was stay on the field. And that was before the NCAA suspension — or the cramping.
“We’re hoping that he can make it through,” Richt said. “Even (Tuesday) he was not full speed, and I was like, ‘Oh man.’ It was making me nervous. In fact I said, ‘Are you sure you didn’t pull that thing?’ And he was, like, ‘No Coach, it’s just super sore.’ And (Wednesday) he was fine.”
Green was asked Tuesday if it was frustrating to still miss time at Colorado upon his return.
“Oh man. You know it happens,” he said. “It’s just cramps, so I didn’t really worry about it. I’ll be ready back next week. I hope I don’t cramp up again, but I’ll hydrate more this week.”
The injury trouble appears to be just a recent phenomenon for Green. He played in every game as a freshman, and his high school coach remembered only one injury, when he cramped up during a state championship game.
“We were trying to play him on offense and defense, and it was warm, so that’s why that happened,” Summerville head coach John McKissick said. “Other than that, we never had any problem with him.”
Green’s return at Colorado showed why it’s so important for the Bulldogs to have him healthy: His presence changed the complexion of the Bulldog offense.
The downfield passing game was at its best, with Green hauling in passes of 50 and 39 yards, the latter for a touchdown. The tight ends caught four passes after catching a combined six the first four games.
Even the running lanes seemed wider. The Bulldogs averaged more than 5 yards per carry, two more than they had averaged in the previous three games.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray explained the difference with Green in the game.
“When (defensive player) are making their reads, they’ve gotta say, ‘Hey I gotta make sure I know where A.J. is.’ That split-second right there, that opens up a running lane, that allows the running back to get out there and get to the safety a little faster,” Murray said. “It really does open up other people to make plays.”
Green’s role could even expand for the Tennessee game.
Fellow receiver Marlon Brown is doubtful after injuring his shoulder. Kris Durham, the team’s top receiver during Green’s suspension, could miss a second straight game with a neck injury.
The Bulldogs also need a punt returner, with Branden Smith out with a concussion. Green has been getting reps, along with Logan Gray, Carlton Thomas and Derek Owens.
Despite the injury risk, Green wants the job.
“I would love to do that,” Green said.