In any normal year, a minor injury involving John Henderson during camp would be treated with passing interest by the coaching staff, fans, and the media.
This year is very different.
The business as usual approach has been tossed out in favor of a new hard-line methodology Jack Del Rio feels is necessary to rein in the players and get the team back on track.
Del Rio has long been considered a player's coach based on his history as a Pro-Bowl linebacker in the league. So, this shift to a more authoritarian approach in the mold of something reminiscent of Tom Coughlin's style has to be a difficult pill to swallow for veteran players who have been in the trenches with Jack from the start.
If Henderson's "I'm in" announcement last week was intended to quell the tumult surrounding his injury, it did the job for twenty-four hours.
When he missed subsequent practices after only participating on a limited basis in one organized team activity session, the talk started to ramp up again. It has resurfaced as a hot topic in the local media, on talk radio, and on various sites around the web.
Deeds, not words.
Saying all of the right things has to come with a certain level of action that shows a level of commitment, and that simply has not happened.
For a player of Henderson's caliber, these voluntary practices are nothing more than a nuisance.
The problem for Henderson is that he is coming off of two consecutive down seasons where his production has not lived up to his compensation. There is a valid reason for Del Rio to be frustrated and disappointed by the latest incident when Henderson is such an important part of their plans for 2009.
As a veteran player, Henderson is normally looked upon as a leader. Whether that is a fair expectation or not is irrelevant.
By virtue of being in the league for as long as he has, Henderson is a player that others within the organization look up to as one of their leaders. He sets the example, and serves as an anchor for a unit that is already struggling to regain some semblance of respectability after a disappointing 2008.
The fact that Henderson has a long track record of allegedly feigning injuries during training camp in years past is a representation of a character flaw on his part. It offers some insight into the mindset that Henderson approaches his job with, and it is not encouraging.
As a highly compensated professional athlete, Henderson should find sufficient motivation to perform based on the number of zeroes in his pay check on a weekly basis during the season. He should approach the process of preparing for the upcoming season with a level of seriousness and commitment that shows he is truly on board with what Del Rio is trying to accomplish this year.
That does not mean that he should be practicing if he is seriously injured. However, if the injury is only severe enough to give him the option to skip out on voluntary practices, and he is milking it to extend his lack of participation, then it shows a complete lack of professionalism on his part.
This situation has already generated low points. When Del Rio openly expressed his doubts about the severity of the injury in the press with cameras rolling, he also showed poor judgment.
With the numerous declarations that he will treat his players like men, it seemed like a serious deviation when he came just short of scolding Henderson in the media like an uncooperative child.Del Rio has done this in the past with other players, but this was the first time where he actually stumbled in such a big way in the media.
Many believed that this was intended, and his goal was to motivate Henderson.
Well, if that truly was the intention, then the manner in which the player responded to this motivation tactic should send a pretty clear message that Jack needs to rethink his strategy. He came across as being somewhat amateurish when he made the remarks in the media, and he has done nothing to dissuade that subsequently.
Most have given Jack a pass for his actions, either pawning it off as a learning experience, or actually applauding Jack for calling out a player.
Others like myself are less inclined to agree with the approach. It does not convey the type of professionalism that Del Rio has conveyed previously.
On the other side, there is no defense for Henderson's past actions. He has taken relatively minor injuries and leveraged them to avoid practice time during training camp. He has been less than committed in the past to giving his entire focus to the team to advance his career.
Whether this injury is a legitimate cause for the lack of participation or not, there is a track record of Henderson being less than professional in the way he approaches his job. Saying the right words to the press should be matched by a visible show of commitment by participating in some manner during practices, especially where there is little or no contact involved.
With the team struggling to rebuild the sense of unity that allowed them to make the playoffs in 2007, having a leader on the roster bucking the trend and doing his own thing reflects a problem with veteran players that has plagued Jack Del Rio for the past few years.
John Henderson should be focusing his energy on getting ready for the 2009 season. Unfortunately, his actions so far have done more to undermine that effort than to move it along.
Someone needs to step up and act like the professional here before things begin to spin out of control and the entire team starts to suffer.