Fans & Media Should Tread Lightly Regarding Henry

Amongst the now seemingly alarming although perhaps not so unpredictable and unexpected issues weighing the Bills down as the start of the regular season draws near, the Travis Henry-Willis McGahee situation needs to be paid attention to. Fans as well as national level media seem eager to generate a controversy regarding these two players.

Some things are obvious such as the blatantly common sense notion that both players, once its proven that McGahee is truly a star in the making when and if that fully occurs, will want to be the Bills' primary ball carrier. It doesn't take a seasoned analyst and genius to get that far. It also does not delve into the arena of fantasy to suggest and expect that perhaps some team politics and perhaps even fan favoritism will influence the outcome of that scenario.

However, what I find to be odd is that after the Bills' first preseason game this past Sunday evening vs. the Broncos, a cascade of criticism has already befallen Travis Henry and far more than reasonable accolades have been heaped upon McGahee.

I like McGahee. In fact I have nothing but hopes of his becoming a top 5 running back in this league the likes of Ahman Green, Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor and to a lesser extent LaDainian Tomlinson and Priest Holmes if perhaps eventually not equal to them. But there are numerous hurdles that need to be leapt over in the meantime and when looked at more realistically may never be hurdled at the height necessary to achieve such greatness. Certainly McGahee's performance vs. Denver did not even come close to approaching that level. Perhaps his performance in that game is more a result of a diminished standard of what Bills fans and media now consider to be superlative.

First of all, McGahee needs to play a full season or at least finish a college schedule's portion of a dozen games or so without injury before this team relies on him permanently. He not only needs to outperform Henry, but needs to demonstrate that he can walk off the field without so much as even a limp after some of the pounding tackling that he will face during such a season. He must prove that he can have back-to-back-to-back games of 25+ carries in the NFL if necessary in order for the team to be able to rely on him as their primary rock toter.

As to Henry, Henry needs absolutely no justification. He has carried this team's offense on his back during the entire Bledsoe era in Buffalo. In 2002 fans and media complained about Henry's fumbles although only one of them cost the Bills a game. Meanwhile, Bledsoe had 18 turnovers in 7 losses yet that was eclipsed by Henry's fumbling woes. Last season whatever little offense was there came courtesy of Travis Henry and half of that on his playing through a broken leg! His per game average increased by nearly 10 yards-per-game in spite of having a fraction of the passing game support that he had the season prior and on top of it all. His average yards-per-gain of 4.3 yards-per-carry over the past two seasons is remarkable given these circumstances.

When one considers that he is just entering his prime, it should make any fan expect even more and be very satisfied with the presence of a running back such as Henry. Not in Buffalo however. Nope. Many fans are ready to trade Henry away for a first pick that may never amount to anything but a salary cap drain. Talk about a bird in the hand being worth more than a single bird in the bush let alone two in the bush. Among the McGahee-Henry controversy, Bledsoe's play, the offensive line, Donahoe's management approach, and several other issues, certain aspects of this season are beginning to morph into more of a soap opera than a football season. This would not be a positive development.

Certain elements of the fans, media, and even team management seem to be more concerned with exciting player moves and individual player performances than with putting a solid team led by the strength of two decent lines on the field. Meanwhile a good chunk of the Bills attractiveness to not only their own free agents this upcoming offseason, but market free agents as well, will hinge upon their overall performance as a team this season. Right now to say that that performance is under extreme and justifiable scrutiny would be to downplay the situation.

During the 2002 season, in spite of screams that "the Bills' best chances of winning were when the ball was in Drew's hands", the facts screamed out that the opposite was true, namely take the ball out of Drew's hands, put it into Henry's, and the chances of victory go up exponentially. In the six games in which Bledsoe had the most attempts the Bills were 1-5. In the four games in which he had the fewest attempts they were 4-0. As pointed out above, in 7 losses Bledsoe had 18 personal turnovers.

Contrarily, in the seven games in which Henry had the most carries, the Bills were 5-2. In the seven games in which he had the fewest carries the Bills were 2-5. Nothing else needs to be said. Henry should not have to earn anyone's respect. There are few running backs that could have done any more than Henry did last season on an offense as woeful as the Bills' offense. As a contrast, picture if you will how well Henry would have performed on a team with a decent passing game and above average blocking. He may have had 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns. When one considers that Henry is not a long ball runner and home run threat, the fact that he has managed to average 4.3 per carry stands out even more.

Yet, the applause at the stadium and hype for a RB who barely eked out four yards-per-carry largely on the merits of a single 16 yard run in the 2nd half, (3.5 yards-per-carry otherwise on 12 carries) vs. an up-for-evaluation second team defense clearly nowhere near the first team defense that Henry had to face, and there is no explanation for the criticism which befell Henry on at least one national level media outlet. I dare say that if the same reasoning had been applied which has recently been applied to Henry had been levied at Drew Bledsoe during his tenure in Buffalo, then Bledsoe would no longer be with the team.

And what about Bledsoe? I observed more media and fan heat directed at Henry even ridiculously suggesting that perhaps Henry's days are numbered, as if a below average overall performance by McGahee vs. a second string defense in a preseason game qualifies him for the Hall of Fame notwithstanding the fact that it will defy all odds if he even makes it through the season uninjured.

Where is the equal heat on a quarterback controversy involving Bledsoe who underthrew what should have been a touchdown pass to Moulds resulting in an interception to end the first drive; then was sacked on third down of the following 3-and-out as well to end that drive; who then threw a ball into the defensive line to end a drive begun with a spectacular interception by Ryan Denney giving the Bills outstanding field position at the Denver 42? All of this on a team which has bent over backwards to tailor their offensive scheming to making him not play as such. Is this any different that last season from Bledsoe? Shouldn't the talk and discussion of ‘Losman (or Brown) expecting to play and having completely outplayed Bledsoe in spades on Sunday in Losman's case", should that not be the more prominent controversy.

If there is a controversy then that is where it should be, between an aging has-been, brick-footed, archaic, slow-decision-making quarterback who is completely out of place in the modern NFL and a first round rookie draft pick who played the lights out. Readers firing up their PCs and opening up Microsoft Outlook applications to set me straight regarding the fact that Losman and Brown were playing the second/third team Denver D can also perhaps graciously include the roster of all-star defenders against which McGahee was playing in putting up an average performance somehow translating to a superlative effort. When one considers that Bledsoe will now cost the team a minimum of nearly $9 million now, the controversy should loom even larger. Yet, and oddly enough, I have not noticed a single article suggesting it.

Will McGahee be big in this league? I for one sure hope so. But it is nowhere near a given at all. In fact, a very good milestone for McGahee would be to simply make it through the 2004 season with at least 150 carries and 200 touches without any injury whatsoever that would either hinder his performance, regardless of how slightly, or not allow him to play in all 16 regular season games this season. If he can do that and still show flashes of future stardom, then let the controversy begin. If not, then fans may well be wishing that they and the media had perhaps been a little nicer to their golden goose of the past two seasons.

What I observed on Sunday evening was a running back who was extremely tentative on a rebuilt knee and one that had all the hallmarks of needing a full season to simply shake out the cobwebs let alone do anything impressive. There was no exceptional speed or were no special evasive moves at all. There certainly was nothing of the sort to support training camp rumors that McGahee was truly 100%. Any evaluation beyond that at this time is purely speculative and without any basis whatsoever. How well McGahee played in college along with the accompanying footage will not do a thing for the red-shirted second year player in the NFL.

Right now barring massive improvements to the play of the first team offense it is looking more and more as if it will be a minor miracle if the Bills achieve 8-8 let alone a winning season with some strong indications that they may even be worse than last season's 6-10 record and perhaps even only nominally better than last season's putrid offense if the offensive line does not wake up in time for the first string of six games which feature a horrific string of opponents. The performance of the first team offensive line was putrid on Sunday night. If that continues, then the team will be fortunate indeed if any of their free agents desire to stay on in Buffalo and Bledsoe will be benched after a few games if he is not knocked into the next decade before then.

Henry will play and play hard I have no doubt. He may also very well be what stands between a repeat putrid offensive performance again and a halfway respectable season offensively speaking in Buffalo. The Henry-McGahee situation is precarious at best from several aspects including being a self-generated management issue following this season to a present tactical conundrum for rookie head coach Mike Mularkey. I for one am curious as to how it will all be handled.

Henry already appears to be short on patience however for the unjustified infatuation on the part of fans and media for a running back who has not even proven that he can play a full season since his junior season in high school while conveniently and proverbially tossing him by the wayside as if he is some sort of sub-par running back. Apparently that is the thanks he gets for playing through a broken leg last season and being the lone player keeping last season's offense from being the worst in the history of the NFL.

Henry may very well have the last laugh however. This will be Henry's 4th season and as such he will be eligible for full free agency benefits following this season. Sure, he's signed through the 2005 season, but judging by the way things appear to be looking at the moment, with the line in shambles and with the Bills best lineman, Jonas Jennings, coming up for free agency as well as Marcus Price who joins him and will be 33 next season to boot, what is the promise that next season will be any more grand in Buffalo than last season was or than this season appears to once again be headed with only half of a bonafide starting offensive line in tact?

If the fans and media continue to drive this stake into Henry's heart, they may very well be making their own proverbial bed! It does not take a vivid imagination for anyone to consider Henry's position. Should he decide to hold out next season, only a fool for a GM would not trade him immediately given that following the 2005 season Henry would walk free as a free agent either way after a six game appearance at the end of the season. With the way this offensive line looks for next season on paper barring the resigning of Jennings and Price who will be 33 then, it makes this season's line look superior. Perhaps it is in Henry's best interests to sit out if it all unfolds in this manner. Surely he needs no prodding, yet, that is what is occurring. Henry is just entering his prime this season as well and likely has four or five excellent seasons remaining all other things being equal. A year sitting would likely extend his career by that same season.

Bills' fans and even much of the media are "counting their chickens" far too early and sending the message to the hen that has been laying the golden eggs to have his bags packed by season's end! McGahee had an average game vs. a second team defense, nothing more, nothing less. This may turn on fans by evolving into a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Once Henry's bags are packed, he may not be as easily talked into unpacking them should the situation dictate such a necessity for the Bills during next offseason.

Meanwhile, the same set of fans and media seem to be supporting a quarterback who has provided a fraction of the positive play and a significantly greater amount of poor play than Henry has, both behind the same exact line. All the preseason talk is how Mularkey, Clements, Wyche, and McNally will "fix Drew's play" even though there was not a single shred of evidence in the first preseason game that that is anywhere close to being achieved or even that anything has changed for that matter. Meanwhile, Henry needs no fixing and even corrected what did need to be fixed, fumbles, last season. Yet there is a controversy involving the arguably single best player on the offense. It is truly unbelievable.

While the media often thrives on self-induced controversies, fans and local media have a choice to make. Perhaps they can take a lesson from Aesop's fable of the Dog and the Shadow. That fable goes something like this: A dog with a bone in his mouth is on its way home. While underway, the dog crosses a small bridge over a still brook. The dog pauses, sees the reflection in the water which the dog takes as another dog with a larger bone. While looking down into the water the dog snaps at the larger dog's bone in order to acquire it and while doing so loses the bone that it had in the water, thusly ending up with no bone at all.

Fans had better tread lightly with Henry or if things don't work out in fantasy novel fashion this season regarding the offensive line and the intricately dependent evolvement of Willis McGahee, which is a distinct and very good possibility, fans may be begging and pleading the only reliable component of the offense lo these past two seasons to remain on in Buffalo. Henry is much more likely to make up his mind long before the end of the season however and given the rumors now existing coupled with the horrid play of the first team offensive line and offense in general on Sunday night, it does not appear that there is an abundance of good will towards the Bills offensive golden goose over the past two seasons.

Heck, maybe he'll eventually end up in Miami or New England! Wouldn't that be a fit ending to a completely self-induced problem.

Comments: mweiler.billsreport@cox.net


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