Oh, Henry!!

Despite his successful start, the Browns rookie DB is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. Jeff Schudel talks to Anthony Henry to learn more about the Browns' fast-starting rookie.

Anthony Henry, a quiet, God-fearing rookie, has life achievement goals. No matter how tempting the limelight and chance to thump his chest might be, the candidate for AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year wants to make certain his feet remain firmly on the ground.

How easy that will be in a league where trash talking is almost as important for some cornerbacks as is their ability to stick with a wide receiver on a slant, no one can say for sure. Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield could sling it with the best in the 1980s and they turned out all right.

Now Corey Fuller reigns supreme among the Browns' trash talkers. He has taught third-year player Dayton McCutcheon well. McCutcheon's mouth has gotten him into more than one scrape. Cutch, though the shortest of the Browns' DBs, doesn't back down from anyone. Fuller, however, might have some difficulty convincing Henry to vocalize a string of insults directed at the receiver before the snap.

"Corey has his way of playing, I have mine," the rookie from South Florida said. "He's more vocal, I tend to be more humble. Not to say he isn't humble. People just have different styles.

"I get excited and might make some comments out there, but it's not flashy or flamboyant. I'm having fun, which I think is the same with other corners."

McCutcheon has been guiding the shy 6-foot, 198pound rookie and, boisterous or not, McCutcheon likes the way Henry plays.

"He has great talent," McCutcheon said. "He's strong. He has good speed. You can see he makes plays. I've told him to stay confident. When they see you're a rookie, they're going to keep coming after you. There will be times when you make plays and times when you don't. You can't get down on yourself if you get beat.

"I've gone against some of the receivers he's been facing. I've given him some tips on what their best moves are and best routes are. A lot of people get locked in on one side. He can play both. That's another good thing."

Now it should be pointed out that Henry has gotten along very well without insulting the mother or brain of the wide receivers he covers.

He made a preseason interception in the end zone against Tampa Bay on Aug. 18 to preserve a 0-0 tie and help the Browns win 7-6. That was just the beginning. Through 11 games, Henry had seven interceptions, tying him for the AFC lead. His total is far and away the most among rookie defensive backs in either conference.

Henry intercepted three passes against the Lions Sept. 23 and three against the Ravens Nov. 18. No other Browns player has ever done that twice in the same season, going back all the way to their inception in 1946 in the All America Football Conference.

Coach Butch Davis said Henry is "the most unique rookie" he has ever seen -not just with the Browns, but the six years he was with the Cowboys as an assistant as well.

"He plays with unbelievable composure," Davis said. "From the minute he walked into the very first mini-camp, you would have thought he had been in the league for five years - poised, confident. He relies on his fundamentals.

"He doesn't get in a panic situation. He has unbelievable instincts around the football."

Normally, Henry plays in the nickel. He had to play in the regular defense part of the time in the Nov. 18 Raven game because Dayton McCutcheon was on and off the field with an ankle injury. Elvis Grbac picked on Henry, and the rookie made him pay.

"Most of the time, if I get a good read on the receivers, I know when they're going to break down on the route," Henry said. "Once I see them breaking out, I just drop back to the receiver. Once I look back, the ball should be there."

Todd Bowles, the nickel package coach, describes Henry as intelligent and well-grounded. It is the latter mark that pleases Henry most.

"If a receiver makes a smart remark, I might laugh and tell him he's the one talking so he has to put out," Henry said. "That's pretty much my deal. But as far as making plays, I give God the glory because He's the one who allowed me to be in this position.

"That's why I don't do that trash talking. My faith is trusting God in all situations."

That faith in God also explains why Henry didn't fret when he failed to get into the University of Miami out of Estro High School in Fort Myers, Fla.

Henry lettered at free safety, cornerback, quarterback and punter in high school, which is to say about the only time he left the field was when the band played at halftime.

He was the team MVP in basketball and the Fort Myers District's Most Valuable Player in track while setting records in the high jump (6-foot-6) and triple jump (44 feet, one inch).

All those numbers were more than enough to get him into Miami. The numbers that kept him out were the ones he got on his SAT and ACT tests.

Pete Garcia, in charge of football development with the Browns, was the Director of Football Operations for Butch Davis at the University of Miami from 19962000. It was Garcia who tried to recruit Henry to Miami. When poor test scores forced Henry to make another choice, that choice being South Florida, Garcia tracked Henry's college career.

Henry was a cornerback and safety in college. He made 10 interceptions, eight of them the last two years. Garcia probably knew more about him than any scout in the country, so when the fourth round of the draft came along in April and Henry was still available, the decision to draft him was an easy one.

"To say I would have gone earlier in the draft if I had gone to Miami is a lot of ifs and buts," Henry said. "I think this is the best situation for me now. I feel like I'm catching on pretty fast.

"I've always had faith in my ability. It's just a matter of me putting in the time and effort to learn the defense and get it done."

Davis wasn't sure whether Henry would be a safety or cornerback with the Browns. The 6-0, 198-pounder was used at left corner in a May mini-camp and he played so well the safety experiment was scrapped. Now Henry is part of a rotation with Fuller. He'll be tested in the last three games when the Browns face Brett Favre in Green Bay, Steve McNair in Nashville and the fast-improving Kordell Stewart in Pittsburgh.

The way he is going, Henry will more than live up to the test. He is one young man who has not hit the proverbial rookie wall.

"Everybody on defense has played well, but Jamir Miller, Dwayne Rudd and Anthony Henry have taken their game to another level," free safety Percy Ellsworth said. "Dwayne and Jamir are veterans who have been around five or six years. Anthony's a rookie.

"I dress right next to him. I've never heard him talk about his interceptions. When he had three (vs. the lions), you could tell he was in store for more, and obviously he's gotten them. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up with eight or 10. Not to put pressure on him, but you have the feeling he's destined for greatness."

This article was originally published in Bernie's Insiders magazine on December 10, 2001.

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