Hunter Henry has healthy approach to fourth season with Chargers
As a group, the Chargers have the same Super Bowl aspirations today as every other team.
But first, tight end Hunter Henry is shooting for something a little more modest.
“I think my No. 1 goal is to just play in all 16 [games],” he said Monday. “I haven’t been able to do that yet.”
During his rookie season in 2016, Henry missed one game. He was sidelined for two the next year.
Then came the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that limited Henry to 14 snaps last season.
Injured in May of 2018, he appeared in only one game, the Chargers’ playoff loss at New England in January.
His absence meant quarterback Philip Rivers was without a reliable and potentially dangerous target. Henry scored 12 touchdowns over his first two seasons.
“We’re blessed,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “We’ve got some pretty good weapons. We’ve got some guys who have produced for us. When you can add a guy like Hunter to the mix, it gives you even more things that you can do.”
Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn got to see the life-and-death struggle many people endure during a trip to Tanzania this summer.
Henry has looked fresh and fully healthy through the first five days of training camp. In fact, he said he no longer is even thinking about his surgically repaired knee.
With wide receiver Tyrell Williams having departed through free agency, the Chargers would love for a productive Henry to help fill the gap.
“I feel just as explosive, maybe even more,” he said. “I feel great running right now.”
Henry gives the Chargers a tight end who can line up inside and outside, and even in the backfield in certain formations.
He also is regarded as an effective run blocker. With the duo of Henry and veteran Virgil Green, the Chargers likely are about to play their first season since 2002 without Antonio Gates.
A year ago, Gates signed to replace the injured Henry and completed his 16th NFL season. He remains a free agent, and the Chargers appear ready to move on.
“It’s great to have Hunter back,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s one of those unique guys who’s a combination of size and speed. He has great hands and a good feel in the running game.”
Though he made it all the way back to start in that postseason loss to the Patriots, Henry said he’s in a much better place today to contribute.
“Just the mental part of it,” he explained. “I was good then and I felt good. But where I am now, it’s just helped with my confidence. I’m very confident in my knee.”
Feeney plays center
Several of the Chargers veterans didn’t practice Monday, including Rivers. Coach Anthony Lynn has promised that he won’t push his starters during training camp or the preseason in hopes of keeping them fresh.
Mike Pouncey also had the day off, giving Dan Feeney an opportunity to take the majority of the first-team reps at center.
The Chargers’ starting left guard in 2018, Feeney has played center at times in practice but never in a game.
Michael Badgley’s breakout season with the Los Angeles Chargers has placed high expectations on the kicker, but he’s not one to fret over a bad hair day.
“The more you can do, the better you are,” he said. “It’s one more thing I can add to my toolbox. Maybe someday down the road I could be playing center. You never know in this league.”
Pouncey signed a two-year deal last offseason and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020. If he proves capable of playing center, Feeney could eventually take that spot.
The Chargers also are giving 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp a chance to earn a starting job at guard in this camp. In the battle for a game-day roster spot, the versatility can only help Feeney.
“On the O-line, you’ve got to be interchangeable sometimes,” he said. “It just helps out the team.”
The Chargers will have a new punter this season, after using Drew Kaser and Donnie Jones last year. The two candidates in camp are Ty Long and Tyler Newsome.
Long appears to have the early edge since he also can kick and would give the Chargers a strong-legged option for kickoffs, an area where Michael Badgley has struggled.
“If something happens to Mike, we feel like Ty can go in and get us out of a game,” Lynn said. “And Ty’s not a bad kicker. He’s done it before for a job.”
Long kicked and punted the past two years for the BC Lions of the CFL. He signed with the Chargers in January.
Newsome signed as an undrafted free agent in May. He played at Notre Dame.
Even though his team is being touted by many as a pick to win the next Super Bowl, Lynn said he is unconcerned about the weight of expectation. He said the Chargers expect more from themselves than anyone on the outside ever could.
“I’d rather be in this position than sitting here hoping we might go 8-8,” he said. “I’d bet on my team. I like this team. I like this coaching staff, this organization.”
Running back Detrez Newsome, who left Sunday’s workout after taking a hit from linebacker Kyle Wilson, returned to practice. Fullback Derek Watt also returned after missing some time. … The Chargers will practice once more Tuesday before taking Wednesday off and then hosting the Rams for a joint practice Thursday in Costa Mesa.
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