Henderson, Tight Ends Speeding Up Spring Pace

Know how football fans offer the annual ambition of getting the tight ends ‘more involved' in the coming year's offense? Apparently two guys wearing red jerseys in Mississippi State practices think along those same lines. Because when Chris Relf and Tyler Russell seek an available target, quickly, that guy wearing #85 usually emerges as their new best friend.

"Well, that's what I try to do!" agreed Brandon Henderson. "I try to bail them out, take the pressure off them, they know we're on the same page. And just make both our jobs easier."

Henderson, along with his first-team partner Marcus Green, have indeed been making spring things easier for their passers. In fact these two tight ends have consistently out-produced their split end and flanker squadmates in most practices and scrimmages, to such an extent some days that the implication is unavoidable.

Mississippi State's tight ends are infinitely more involved for 2010.

Which is a most welcome development for a veteran like Henderson, a senior who has seen his share of ups-and-downs by Bulldog offenses. Not surprisingly, when asked to compare the potential of the various schemes attempted since he arrived in 2006, "I like this one the best," Henderson said. "Because I'm more involved!

"I've got more pass options, I'm the first read in a lot more plays. So I figure it's more to my advantage, and the other tight ends' advantage as well."

Indeed all three active scholarship tight ends—senior Henderson, junior Green, and junior Kendrick Cook—have benefitted from an expanded offensive repertoire this spring. Yet at the end of each day if the catches were tallied, it's Henderson consistently coming out ahead. Often he snares as many balls in a session as his alternates combined, in fact. And as noted, when the Bulldog defense is coming hard and Relf or Russell need to unload without just throwing it away entirely, for some reason Henderson is now their unofficail go-to-guy.

Why? "I don't know," Henderson admits. "I guess my seniority got to me!"

It certainly helps that he's healthy again, too. Henderson nearly vanished from the 2009 picture after an opening-game ankle injury, not returning to action until the final three weekends of the season. As a result he didn't catch a pass all the abbreviated fall, much like his 2007 redshirt-rookie year when another injury limited his participation.

But when healthy in '08 he hauled in six balls giving promise that he could do more than block. Which, by the way, is still the first duty listed among his tight end duties even in this spread-based system.

"Yeah, yeah, I still have to block!" he grinned. "I've gotten a lot better at that. I've still got some work to do as the season approaches, but I think as a unit we've all gotten better." Ironically while Henderson and Green have both avoided health issues in camp, this particular unit is unscathed. "I think we're doing pretty good. With the exception that we're one man short with Thomas Webb going down with a toe injury. But for the most part we've hung in there pretty good."

And practiced very good. Scrimmaged, too, as did Henderson in this past Saturday's game-type session on Scott Field when he pulled down a day-best six passes for 91 yards. And, in red zone work again he was the preferred target for the passers. Naturally some of this has to do with defensive awareness of Green, an acknowledged air-game threat. At the same time though Henderson has earned his status in this scheme by running better routes, getting in the right spots on time, and just catching the ball. So much for the perception that he's simply a blocker.

"I just needed to step up from all the things I've done in the past," Henderson said.

For that matter the entire air game appears to be making longer strides this spring. Though there remain obvious needs for further development and better depth at several wide receiver positions, improved potential is showing. Not surprisingly this includes a couple of maturing passers, as judged by Henderson himself.

"Oh, they've come a long way. You know, being second year in the offense, Tyler being a new quarterback and Chris having to take over the whole thing, I think they've done exceptionally well."

Now, if the offense can only do even better in straight-up contests with the defense. Since the spring game will be a split-roster event it might not be a true test of how Henderson's whole side compares with the Dog defenders. But the final scrimmaging score came out in favor of the defense, two dates to one…though Henderson is not admitting real defeat from last Saturday at all.

"The only reason the defense won was the turnover points, they didn't do anything to dominate us like the first scrimmage!" he objects. "We came out with a totally different mindset. We were over in the stadium and Coach talks about when you're in the stadium it's a totally different mindset. We took that approach. We've still got things to clean up. But I think we took a giant step, a huge step in the new offense with a lot of new players stepping up."

Stepping up, and stepping into a gameplan that appears to offer much more variety come fall. Sure, it would be great to have a true lead-Dog on the order of an Anthony Dixon again. Yet Henderson sees an entire offensive squad preparing to not just replace what was graduated but perhaps be even more productive.

Not to mention, less predictable.

"I think that's more to our advantage, because we can all be on the same page, where the defense isn't," Henderson said. "When we're all on the same page the defense can do anything they want to and we should be able to check-out or run hot routes and they shouldn't be able to stop us." Oh, and Henderson really does mean the ‘us' part…as much as he enjoys having been the favored figure of Bulldog passers this spring.

"I feel that we can be good offense, not just myself stepping up but with everyone else stepping up."


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