Henderson keeps on going

Veteran one of the best pure fullbacks in league

Back in 2003 the Green Bay Packers signed Nick Luchey to a six-year, $6.6 million deal, figuring the former Cincinnati Bengal would eventually replace the dependable William Henderson as the starting fullback. Henderson had put in eight seasons, had taken a beating, so why not get a jump on things, right? The Packers had the right idea, but apparently didn't find the right man. Two years later, Luchey is about as close to becoming Henderson's heir apparent as Tim Couch is to being Brett Favre's. The Packers cut Luchey earlier this week and promoted Vonta Leach from the practice squad.

After opening his career in Green Bay as a punishing blocker, Luchey began blocking with the force of a marshmallow. Ironically, that is what he looked like when he showed up at training camp, weighing 284 pounds.

Before the Packers cut him, they should've considered him for the defensive line. It's not like the d-line is loaded with Corey Simons.

Anyway, Luchey never was a svelte fullback, but the team expected him to be around 260-270 pounds, not 280-plus. That extra weight proved to the Packers there wasn't much desire in that big body, so instead of letting Luchey earn his meal money so he can drive to the nearest Old Country Buffet and eat to his tummy's delight, they waved him, sending a message that maybe he should mix in a salad once in a while.

This move, more than anything, solidifies Henderson as one of former GM Ron Wolf's best draft picks ever. Picked in the third round in 1995 out of North Carolina, Henderson came in unknown, but has been indispensable since becoming a full-time starter in 1996.

Emmitt Smith has no worries about Henderson challenging his all-time rushing mark total as Henderson has just 431 rushing yards in his career – and had no rushing attempts last season - but his reliable blocking, uncanny leadership and ability to catch passes has made him as undervalued as any Packers player during his time.

In an era when fullbacks like Mike Alstott gain more recognition than Henderson, because he basically plays the halfback position despite being labeled a fullback, Henderson has proven to be one of the best pure fullbacks of his time. Nevertheless, Henderson didn't make the Pro Bowl until last season.

Most players earn their first Pro Bowl trip in their first five seasons, but Henderson earned his first in his 10th. Slowing down? No.

Even though he has thrown his body around like Favre does footballs, he has remained healthy most of the time and led the way for 1,000-yard running backs like Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green. In fact, after Green's 1,000 yard season in 2004, Henderson became the first fullback in NFL history to block for seven 1,000-yard rushers in a career.

Sunday, Henderson starts his 11th season behind Favre. Most Packers fans won't pay much attention to Henderson, because he doesn't play a glamour position. Still, during the game at Detroit take some time to watch what Henderson does, whether it's a pass block, a run block or catching a pass. It may not look as "sexy" as a Favre bullet or a Green run, but in the big picture what Henderson does, and has done for 10-plus seasons, has truly been remarkable.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.

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