Henderson finding way tough in camp again
Henderson finding way tough in camp again
Louisiana Gannett News Service
METAIRIE - The obvious does not escape Devery Henderson.
The Opelousas native and former LSU standout wide receiver, now in his second season with the New Orleans Saints, can see the handwriting on the wall: Rally and finish this 2005 training camp and preseason strong, or face another campaign like the previous one, languishing on the sidelines in street clothes come Sundays.
Perhaps the biggest topic of this camp has been the ongoing battle for the third receiver spot behind Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth.
Much has been made of the recent acquisition of free agent Az-Zahir Hakim from Detroit and the sharp emergence of New Orleans native Talman Gardner. Hakim and Gardner have grabbed the headlines and accolades, as they have footballs, throughout the first week of practices.
Coach Jim Haslett has been quick to dole out the praise this past week, saying Gardner, "has been outstanding in this camp. He might be our best receiver out there right now, as far as catching the ball. There are going to be some tough decisions (at that spot), because right now he's probably our best receiver."
Hakim, infamous in Saints history for muffing the punt that led to the franchise's only playoff victory in 2000, has the game experience and stats that the coaching staff is enamored with and has also had a strong first eight days.
Conversely, Haslett has told the media that Henderson, "needs to pick it up. He has all the talent in the world, but we just have to keep getting on him. He's got great speed. He just has to keep working on the ball skills, but he has picked it up here the last couple of days."
Meanwhile, there is Henderson quietly going about his business. Following Friday's practice, he broke his silence on the "Race for No. 3."
"I'm not really worried about it. I mean, it fuels me because it's a lot of good competition out there,'' Henderson said. "I'm just trying to compete to the best of my ability and whatever happens, happens. I gotta keep moving forward, so when that opportunity comes, I'll be ready."
The actual progress in that direction might be the main problem. Henderson is known for his penchant of making two or three eye-opening plays daily, but also making routine gaffes, as well, creating a two-steps-forward-one-step-back perception of his play.
"I think the biggest thing Devery needs to work on his consistency," said receivers coach Jimmy Robinson. "He'll flash a play or two really in almost every practice where he'll beat press coverage and then he'll have one or two easy ones that get away from him."
Robinson denied widespread speculation that Henderson has been in a group of several players for whom the offensive playbook was pared back since the second-round pick's late arrival to training camp last season.
"No, the mental part of it I don't think is a major issue with him. I wouldn't say he's had a problem digesting the playbook," he said.
Henderson is working predominately at split end and flanker.
"It's just being able to come out and practice well every day to where we are constantly taking steps forward," Robinson added. "We are still thinking he's going to be a great player for us."
So would a simple matter of inexperience be the main factor as to why he hasn't progressed as well as the team had hoped?
"It's not really one thing. I just have a lot to learn, a lot to put together,'' Henderson said. "You could get away with a lot of things in college with just your ability, but you can't do that here. Your ability can only take you so far. You have to know the game."
Perhaps the final and greatest factor separating the three, at least at this point, is special teams prowess.
Haslett has made no bones about the fact that depth players have to be able to do more than one thing. And despite Henderson's college experience in the kicking game, he lags behind Hakim and Gardner in that area.
"I think it's something I definitely can improve upon," Henderson said. "I don't have any problem playing special teams. It's something I enjoyed doing at LSU. I think (the perception is) that I don't want to play on special teams. I've never once said that and for anybody to think that, they're wrong."
One thing is certain, the No. 3 job is still open and Henderson is being given his fair chance to win it. He has been labeled "the odd man out" by some.
"I told those three guys, 'Look we're all grown men here, and whoever winds up being the best third guy will be the one that they put on the field, and whoever don't, won't,'" Horn said. "You have to be consistent and end the way you start. It's not how you start training camp in this league, it's how you finish."
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