Volunteering Info on Henderson

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January 14, 2002
Volunteering Info on Henderson

As soon as the 2001 NFL Draft ended, speculation began on what the Texans would do with their first-ever pick the following April, and most of the attention turned to Tennessee’s John Henderson.

Henderson, who was coming off an Outland Trophy-winning season, had size, speed and seemingly all the intangibles you’d want in your top pick. But then he sprained his ankle early this year and scouts watched his production drop as a result (23 fewer tackles, 7.5 fewer sacks). There were even questions about his motivation and focus.

So it says a lot about Henderson’s talent that even after a disappointing season (by his standards), here he is, nearly a year later and still considered by many to be one of the top prospects in the 2002 draft. Recently, we caught up columnist David Climer of The Tennessean, who was kind enough to answer some questions about the Volunteer’s big defensive tackle.

HPF: First things first, as we understand it, Henderson was a Prop 48 casualty and thus, technically, a fourth-year junior. Is it possible he could come back to Knoxville in 2002, especially in light of how his regular season ended?

DC: No, John has indicated right on through that this was his final season of college football. I understand he is on schedule to get his degree this spring so, yes, technically he could return. But that’s not going to be the case.

HPF: Do you think Henderson is first overall good?

DC: No. Except last year, it is highly unusual for defensive tackles to go in the first 10 picks. I’d be stunned if he went in the top five. There are too many variables with linemen, especially one who did not have a spectacular season.

HPF: Outside the top five? That flies in the face of the general consensus among draft "experts" — would you mind elaborating?

DC: I’ll leave it at that. I’m not prepared to quote sources for a website that I would not burn in our newspaper.

HPF: Henderson hurt his ankle early in the year and seemed slowed by the injury. How did it impact his game and is it unfair to expect a player of his reputation to play through the pain?

DC: It was a high ankle sprain (how come nobody ever talks about a low ankle sprain?) and it lingered most of the season. I’ve never questioned a player’s threshold of pain. When he said he couldn’t play or couldn’t play at 100% effectiveness, I took him at his word. He had a pretty average year for a top-level defensive tackle, although the Florida game was an eye-opener. That’s the tape most NFL general managers wanted to see because he was going against a good pass-protection line.

HPF: What’s the deal with Henderson’s back – is it a long-term concern?

DC: I don’t think the back is a major concern.

HPF: Henderson had, arguably, his best game of the season against Florida, which was, at the time, Tennessee’s biggest game of the year. Was that a case of Henderson rising to the occasion (he has a reputation for being a big game player), or was it simply a matter of him finally being healthy? If the former, is it fair to say Henderson’s been saving himself this year?

DC: It’s hard to say. Motivation has been called into question where John is concerned in the past, although that did not seem to be the case in the last two seasons.

HPF: One of the knocks against Henderson is that he has a tendency to wear down as the game progresses. What’s the cause of this and is it an area he’s improved on?

DC: Late-game production remains an area of concern.

HPF: Do you mind elaborating?

DC: Tennessee rotates its defensive linemen, which should keep players relatively fresh. But Henderson was not on the field in crucial third-down situations in the second half against LSU in the SEC Championship Game. I can’t account for this although I’ve never heard complaints from coaches about Henderson’s conditioning.

HPF: Henderson plays a position that essentially asks him to do a lot of unappreciated grunt work. For the layman, tell us how Henderson impacts a game in ways beyond the box score.

DC: He got a lot of double-teaming at Tennessee, which freed up Albert Haynesworth, who had a big year at the other tackle. When he plays low (a concern) he is a major run-stopper.

HPF: What other strengths do you see in Henderson? Could he possibly play end at the NFL level?

DC: He’s the classic big guy that can run. He can play end in a three-man front but probably not in four-man.

HPF: Tennessee has one of the nation’s best defensive lines — does Henderson make the line better, or does the line make him better?

DC: Physically, he’s the best DL at Tennessee since Reggie White. Much of what they did stemmed from his overall ability. Will Overstreet, DE, had good numbers largely because of Henderson and the other tackle, Haynesworth.

HPF: What do Henderson’s coaches and teammates think of him?

DC: No idea. Any writer who tells you he really knows what the players and coaches think of a player is lying.

HPF: What’s Henderson like off the field? Has he ever been in trouble? How has he dealt with expectations and pressure this year?

DC: All I know is he has never been considered a problem and didn’t show up on the police blotter. Seems like a nice, pretty quiet guy.

HPF: Do you have any confirmation that Texan scouts and/or personnel have been watching Henderson and/or talking with his coaches? We’ve heard rumors that at this early juncture, Henderson’s #1 on the Texans’ draft board.

DC: Dom Capers coached at Tennessee and is a friend of defensive coordinator John Chavis. I assume everybody with a top 15 pick has talked to Tennessee.

HPF: Speaking of Chavis, we’ve heard rumors that he might join Houston’s staff. Would you comment on those rumors and give us a quick insight into the kind of coach/guy Chavis is. What kind of scheme does he run at Tennessee? Also, what’s his relationship with Henderson like? Could they possibly be a "package" deal (ie will he push to draft Henderson)?

DC: John has talked in the past about coaching in the NFL, probably as a linebacker coach. He and Capers are friends. With that said, he stated within the last month that he plans on being back at Tennessee. As a coordinator, he is a pressure guy with a lot of man coverage.

Chavis is very fond of John Henderson and thinks highly of his ability. With that said, I can’t imagine a new arrival on an NFL staff having that kind of input in the first draft by an expansion franchise.

HPF: Lastly, are there any other Volunteers that Texan fans should keep an eye on for the 2002 draft?

DC: Haynesworth, if he comes out, could go within two picks of Henderson and could be a better pro. WR Kelley Washington, if he comes out, is the most intriguing guy in the draft (four years of minor league baseball, one year of college football [ED NOTE: Washington has since announced he would be returning to UT in 2002]). OG Fred Weary will be a good pro at either guard or center.

David Climer has been at The Tennessean for 24 years. He covered the Tennessee beat for 10 and has been a columnist for the past eight. He endured three rounds of "rigorous" follow-up questions and was always gracious and accommodating — our thanks go out to him for being so generous with his time.

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