3 Terps smile as hits keep coming

For those out in '05 with knee injuries, contact feels sweet

April 13, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- Maryland running back Josh Allen took a handoff from backup quarterback Jordan Steffy, ran about two steps and was driven face-first into the Terps' practice field by a pile of defenders.

It was a feeling he has sorely missed.

For the first time since his junior year, Allen's No. 33 jersey was not covered by one of the yellow pinnies injured football players wear to prevent being hit.

Allen, who dislocated his left knee and tore his anterior collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament in 2004, is one of three key players who missed last season with torn ACLs, but should be difference-makers for the Terps this fall.

"This first contact felt so good," Allen said after Sunday's practice.

Senior offensive lineman Stephon Heyer, a pro prospect, and redshirt sophomore linebacker Erin Henderson have also been participating in spring practices, but on Sunday, they finally had their first contact since suffering their season-ending injuries within the first two weeks of fall camp.

"Yeah, missing those guys hurt us" last season, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "[Allen] was a breakaway threat. He was the one guy we had who could go 80 yards. And now you took him out of the equation. And Erin Henderson was going to be a guy who was going to play a lot of ball for us last year.

"But you never heard me mention that as an excuse," Friedgen said. "It's part of football. I'm just happy to have them back."

Their absences might have been an overlooked factor in the Terps' second consecutive 5-6 finish, as Heyer was the team's top lineman and Allen had rushed for 1,860 yards and 21 touchdowns in the previous three seasons. And much was expected from Henderson, who is the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson.

Heyer returned for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. His injury forced Friedgen to move Derek Miller, his tight end, to left tackle, and to rely heavily on freshman Jared Gaither. Now that he's back, Heyer has been playing left tackle and Gaither right, bringing two players who average 6 feet 8, 324 pounds to the line.

"Since I made the decision to come back," Heyer said, "I'm praying and hoping I do extraordinarily well for the team and myself."

None of the players said he has completely regained pre-injury form, and all still grimace with pain every now and then. Since the start of spring football, Allen said his physical therapy has diminished from two to three hours a day to one hour. He has been working on plyometrics and drills to regain power, speed and endurance.

"I'm just focused on trying to get back to where I was before the injury," he said. "It's something I'm going to have to continue to work hard on throughout the summer, but I have time. I'm trying to stay on schedule."

Henderson, a former standout at Aberdeen High, said he has lost some of his explosiveness, and recovery has been a slow process.

"I feel like a freshman again, getting back to game speed, seeing things," he said. "I'm not where I want to be by any means of the imagination, but that's because I put a lot of pressure on myself."

The Terps lost to Clemson and North Carolina State last year by a combined 10 points, and Allen said his and Heyer's experience might have made a difference.

"Each and every one of us has something to offer the team, especially from the experience part and a leadership point of view," Allen said. "We lost a lot of close games last year, and a lot of the young guys, especially early, had never been in situations like that. I think that's where experience may have helped us out."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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