Last month, a blog posting at SportingNews.com was headlined: "John Henderson: Dirtiest player in football."
Packers center Scott Wells calls Henderson – the Jacksonville Jaguars' standout defensive tackle – something else: one of the best defensive tackles in football.
"I've got a lot of respect for guy, on and off the field, for what he's been able to do," Wells said Friday, two days before Sunday's game at Jacksonville. "He's a talented player."
Wells and Henderson were teammates at Tennessee. Henderson, a hulking 6-foot-7, 335-pounder, was the Outland Trophy winner as college football's top lineman and a first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) in 2002. Wells was a seventh-round pick in 2004. Both are Tennessee natives, and Wells remembers watching Henderson a few times when Henderson starred at Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville.
"He's still big," Wells said with a laugh.
Henderson, a Pro Bowler following the 2004 and 2006 seasons and an All-Pro in 2006, earned notoriety this season when he got into a fight with Cincinnati Bengals guard Andrew Whitworth on Nov. 2. Whitworth's helmet came off when the two got tangled up on a play, and an incensed Henderson gouged Whitworth's eyes. Whitworth wasn't injured, but Henderson was ejected and fined $10,000. He wasn't suspended, but he missed two games later in the month with a sprained knee ligament.
Playing without longtime tag-team partner Marcus Stroud, who landed in Buffalo during the offseason, Henderson has 37 tackles and three sacks in 11 games this season. Those numbers aren't far off his typical production, but by most accounts, Henderson is having a subpar season for the Jaguars (4-9), who rank as one of the NFL's biggest disappointments.
"He's so big, he's hard not to see," Wells joked. "He's big, got a lot of talent, got long arms, so he's definitely a force on defense."
Wells, who's tangled with the likes of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams of Minnesota and Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth this season, is ready for another big challenge as the Packers try to salvage something out of their disappointing season.
"I always look forward to going against guys who are considered some of the elite," Wells said. "He's one of those guys. He's considered one of the better (defensive) tackles, so I look forward to those kind of matchups."
The Packers' special teams will take a hit without Hall and linebacker Danny Lansanah (arm and ankle). Rookie tackle Breno Giacomini, cornerback Joe Porter, new offensive tackle Nevin McCaskill and Brian Brohm (third quarterback) are the other inactives.
Good news or bad news?
Taylor, the 16th-leading rusher in NFL history, had been showing his age this season. Taylor, who will turn 33 next month, had 143 carries for 556 yards and one touchdown this season. His sidekick, Maurice Jones-Drew, had one fewer carry but for 607 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"He's just a ballplayer," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said of Jones-Drew. "It doesn't matter his size. It's not about the stats of a person's size or speed or all those things. When the ball's in his hands, he's going to do something special with it. He has a knack for making the right cuts, using the right burst when he needs to. He just has a good feel for playing football."
The 5-foot-7 Jones-Drew is much more explosive than Taylor, and with Taylor out, Jones-Drew will be the man. He rushed for 941 yards (5.7-yard average) and 13 touchdowns as a rookie, followed by 768 yards (4.6 average) and nine touchdowns last season. This year, he's averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
"(Shorter) guys like that are hard to locate and they are also hard to tackle," linebacker Desmond Bishop said. "It's equivalent to tackling a big guy high, tackling a small guy regular."
Of note, the Jaguars are 2-0 this season with a 100-yard rusher and 24-9 since 2003.
"Snowball, I could see why you are asking that, but it can go one way or the other. That's why I think reality is so important. You have to be a realist and look at the full body of work. We don't have a very good record right now. I am aware of that, but I don't think we are a bad team."
The Packers simply haven't been able to keep momentum this season. They followed two wins to start the season with three consecutive losses. After rebounding with two wins to get to 4-3, they lost on the last play of the game against Tennessee and Minnesota. Then, after routing Chicago, the Packers were hammered by the Saints, then lost in the final moments to Carolina and Houston.
"You have to stack success," McCarthy said, echoing a common theme from last year. "It breeds confidence. It gives you momentum and those are things you want to carry over. We talk a lot about the negatives in here, understandably why, but the most important thing is when you do something well and it a positive, you need to do that better also. That's the stuff we need to do a better job of carrying forward. When we were playing well in the passing game, we need to play better the following week.
"We just can't say we've kind of got that part figured out. It doesn't work that way in this league because you have to overcome. One side of the ball doesn't always play well, and the other side has to pick it up for them. That's really my disappointment as a leader is to get one side to pick it up for the other."
"Every snap, it seems like somebody's being jammed," Garrard said. "When you have corners that are bigger and a little bit faster and a little bit stronger and they get their hands on the receivers, it's going to knock off timing a little bit. That plays into your guys' favor. I can see why you do it. It kind of makes it tough if you miss the jam and the receiver gets off the line pretty cleanly, it hurts you there."
On the other side, the Jaguars' passing offense ranks 13th but Garrard will be without top receiver Matt Jones and key reserve Jerry Porter. He strongly hinted Jones-Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis would be his top targets. Jones-Drew ranks second among NFL running backs with 50 catches, while Lewis is 6-foot-8 and a matchup nightmare.
"We feel like we have a good matchup there," Garrard said.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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