EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
Jets CB Jamie Henderson wants to help the team any way he can
- Jamie Henderson is a fierce competitor.
You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he talks about football. You can see it on the field, whether in practice or games. So imagine his frustration as he tries to come back from a shoulder injury that essentially negated him from suiting up last season.
"Sitting out last year, people thought I would come back and bounce back real fast," says Henderson, who was selected in the fourth round as part of the compensation for New England signing Bill Belichick. "It's kind of hard getting back into the groove of football. Even now I feel like I'm not there yet. It's both physical and mental. It's coming along. I'm about 80 percent."
After having a productive rookie season in 2001 - one in which he was a standout special teams player with 21 tackles and a blocked punt - Henderson was hoping to expand his role in 2002 and be a real contributor on defense.
There was every reason to believe that he'd be a significant factor as a corner back in the secondary. Big at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, Henderson is also extremely quick. Those are two attributes that bode well for a corner playing in the Jets cover-2 scheme.
However, he suffered a subluxed (dislocated) right shoulder injury while making a tackle in the second preseason game at Baltimore. The injury forced him to miss all but two regular season games due to recurrent right shoulder dislocation. (The standard treatment for a subluxed shoulder is rest, but that needs to be followed by a rotator cuff strengthening program to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles to prevent further slipping).
"He didn't play a whole lot his rookie year," says head coach Herman Edwards. "He played a little bit. But he was more of a special teams player. Last year he comes back, he was really coming on, and then he gets hurt. So now he's kind of getting his feet wet again. But he's a talented kid, no doubt about it."
Edwards added: "He's a tremendous talent. He's a tough guy. He can run like the wind. He's fast; he's physical. That's what you want in a player like that. I just think we're going to find a niche for him and let him play."
Henderson said he worked diligently in the off-season to keep his body in shape. He spent more time with weights because he thought - as did everyone else - that he was going to be moved to strong safety and wanted to bulk up in preparation for dealing with a new and physically demanding position.
But he was recently informed that he would be staying at corner. Playing musical positions hasn't affected Henderson's mindset or approach. He's willing to play where the coaches need him most.
"When I got into the game at Tampa Bay at strong safety, I did pretty good," he says. "I didn't make any mental errors. I guess I have good enough feet to play corner. And I'm a tall corner. On top of that I can come up and tackle, so I guess the coaches think I'm better suited there."
Edwards said the reasoning for keeping Henderson at corner was simple.
"At times he's struggled because we're asking him to probably do a whole lot," says Edwards. "It's hindering him because he's trying to do this, trying to do that. He's so raw. He just needs to be at one position right now. We're going to play him at corner and in the nickel. He's in our dime package. We'll get him on the field. I think we've kind of honed in on it now."
Although his main role will be on special teams, Henderson is relishing the chance to get physical with opposing receivers as the extra corner on passing downs. Or as he put it, "playing smash mouth football."
His height is an added advantage, especially with the wealth of big receivers in the NFL.
"You have to be able to jump and get the ball," Henderson says. "If a tall receiver is running a smash route, that's a burden on shorter corners because it's easier to throw the ball over their heads. The cover-2 scheme is good for me. But it's not easy. You have to be able to jam the receiver and read the quarterback. You're doing a lot. When I played cover-2 in high school all we had to do was sit in the flat. Now it's totally different."
For all his hard work and determination the injury bug almost struck Henderson again. He sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament against Cincinnati in the second preseason game. While he missed a majority of practice leading up to Saturday's game vs. New Orleans, Henderson was cleared to play and was a force on special teams, highlighted by a blocked extra point.
The rust from a year of inactivity is finally wearing off. But Henderson's devotion to the game of football remains. As the season draws closer, he is rubbing his hands in anticipation of making up for lost time.
"I'm looking to get a little more playing time on the defensive side and be a help anyway possible," says Henderson. "I also want to be a strong contributor on special teams in every single aspect. I'm just a role player and everyone has a role on the team. So I accept my role and roll with it. But I am going to strive to be the best player that I can be."