On the surface Hunter Henry’s primary goal for the 2019 season might not seem all that ambitious. Achieving it, however, could have an enormous impact on his team.
“I think my number one goal this year is just playing all 16 games,” said Henry. “Because I haven't been able to do that yet.”
The injury plague hit Henry in his first three seasons as a pro. In 2016 he missed one game with a knee strain. The following year he missed two games due to a lacerated kidney. Last year he tore his ACL in OTAs.
Henry said he leaned on the experience of defensive end Melvin Ingram, who tore his ACL in May 2013 and was able to make it back for the playoffs. The tight end was healthy in time for the Chargers divisional game against the New England Patriots in January.
“It's great to have Hunter back,” explained offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, “He's explosive, fast, obviously. He does a lot of things for us, whether it's lining up outside or it's inside as a blocker — even some of the stuff in the backfield. He's one of those unique guys that's a good combination of size and speed.”
Whisenhunt said that prior to drafting him one of the biggest things that attracted the coaches to Henry was his pass blocking ability. It is one of the key responsibilities for tight ends in the Chargers offense, and Henry doesn’t want to be a liability on passing or running plays.
"I take big-time pride in the run game — I definitely do,” explained Henry, “When I'm blocking well, I feel like it sets everything up in the passing game. It just keeps defenses off-balance. I think that's a big thing I'm trying to focus on out here, getting back to that level."
The offense will change now with Henry back in the fold because the team will now feature a pass-catching tight end, which they lacked in 2018. Two seasons ago Henry had 579 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. Last year Los Angeles’ top three tight ends (Antonio Gates, Virgil Green and Sean Culkin) combined for just 567 yards and three touchdowns.
Now it is no secret that quarterback Philip Rivers loves his tight ends. For years the one person he could depend on no matter what was future hall of famer Antonio Gates. During his first two seasons Rivers targeted the Arkansas product 115 times. Now with Henry back expect Rivers to look his way more often.
“Having him back and in the fold, down-in and down-out, in there with [TE] Virgil [Green] — he's just such a playmaker. He's just that complete tight end, as you've all seen, but having not seen it for a year it makes him that much more exciting."
In fact, during Rivers’ vacation to Florida he met up with Henry and his brothers and threw passes to the young tight end. The 16-year veteran quarterback said around that time of year he typically doesn’t like throwing, but that when his tight end told him he was 15 minutes away Rivers made an exception.
Henry said he is excited to have joint practices later this week with the Rams because it gives him game-like reps – something he hopes to have a lot more of in the coming months.
Nuts N’ Bolts
•Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn gave QB Philip Rivers, C Mike Pouncey, and DT Brandon Mebane the day off as veteran’s rest.
•Since Pouncey was rested the Chargers had Dan Feeney starting at center and Forrest Lamp slid into the left guard position.
•Chargers will practice on Tuesday then have Wednesday off, before a joint practice with the LA Rams Thursday at 10 a.m.