Chris Henry: The Next Chapter

Dan ClasgensContributor IMay 22, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - AUGUST 28:  Receiver Chris Henry #15 of the Cincinnati Bengals watches from the bench as they face the Indianapolis Colts during a pre-season game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 28, 2008 in Indianpolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Later this summer the Cincinnati Bengals will welcome the crew of HBO’s Hard Knocks for 50 days to their practices, inside their locker room, and everywhere in between for an all-access look at the team.

It’s a safe bet that Chad Ochocinco will throw himself in the spotlight with a variety of carefully planned shenanigans, assuming he shows up.

Carson Palmer is an obvious storyline as the leader of the team and coming off a major injury. Everybody wants to know how he’s throwing the ball.

Still, the best story could be from Chris Henry.

Henry, the poster boy for the Bengals’ league-wide bad boy image, has been arrested five times and suspended by the league for his off-the-field conduct for 14 games during his four-year career as a Bengal.

Tired of his antics, the Bengals released the troubled wideout last April after another run-in with the law. However, after a change of heart, team owner Mike Brown gave Henry another chance when nobody else in the league would. The team re-signed the then 25-year old to a two-year deal just prior to the start of the 2008 season.

Let’s look at some potential questions that the Hard Knocks’ crew could ask Henry that would shed some new light on the gifted receiver.

Question: What was your childhood like?

Background: Henry was born to Carolyn Lee and David Henry in 1983 just outside of New Orleans in Belle Chase, Louisiana. His father was seldom around. Surrounded by a large extended family, Henry was often lost in the shadows.

One place where Henry shined was on the football field. He was one of the top high school players in the New Orleans area. He broke out as a senior, catching 61 balls for 1,083 yards and an unprecedented 24 touchdowns. The effort earned him a scholarship to West Virginia University.

Question: You made a mark at West Virginia on the college gridiron, but also ran into some trouble off of it. How did that experience impact you?

Background: By the time he finished his career at West Virginia, Henry would go down as one of the most prolific playmakers in Mountaineers’ history. In two years at the school Henry amassed 1,878 yards and 22 touchdowns on 93 receptions, starting 13 of 25 contests. However, his behavior would raise red flags.

In addition to several off-the-field incidents and academic struggles, Henry often had moments of lapses on the field. In 2004 he was ejected in a game versus Rutgers following multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and was suspended for a game against Pittsburgh later that season for violating team rules.

Despite his undeniable talent, Henry’s consistent lack of good judgment and inability to maintain his poise at times on the field caused him to fall to the third round of the NFL draft.

Question: How did getting drafted and making it into the NFL impact your life?

Background: After wearing out his welcome in Morgantown, Henry now found himself in Cincinnati and making a huge salary. At 22, Henry signed a five-year, $2.79 million contract that included a signing bonus of $865,000.

Before Henry played his first NFL snap Hurricane Katrina would ravage his hometown of New Orleans, leaving several of his relatives and friends homeless. Within one year over 20 cousins and extended family members would migrate to Cincinnati and move in with Henry. Like so many stars before him, the newly-found entourage would have a negative impact on the suddenly wealthy athlete.

Question: Where did your career hit a bump in the road?

Background: Henry made an instant splash as a rookie and quickly became a household name in the Queen City. He finished his first season with 31 catches for 422 yards and 6 touchdowns, helping the Bengals to their first playoff appearance in 15 years.

Soon the plays he was making on the field would once again be overshadowed by the headlines he was making off of it.

Henry was arrested four times between December 2005 and June 2006, for possession of marijuana in Northern Kentucky, carrying a concealed weapon in Florida, drunken driving in Ohio and providing alcohol to minors in Northern Kentucky.

Question: After all the times in jail and court, when did it finally hit you that you need to make changes?

Background: Henry had clearly worn out his welcome with Marvin Lewis after three straight suspended-shortened seasons. A fifth arrest prompted the team to finally cut him in April of 2008.

"The Bengals tried for an extended period of time to support Chris and his potentially bright career," team owner Mike Brown said in a press release.

"We had hoped to guide him toward an appropriate standard of personal responsibility that this community would support and that would allow him to play in the NFL. ... But those efforts end today, as we move on with what is best for our team."

The NFL suspended him indefinitely, but after the charges were dropped because of a mistrial, the league office reduced his suspension to four games.

Henry would go four months as a free agent without hearing from a single team. His money dried up. His family and friends made their way back to New Orleans and Henry was left with nothing.

With questions surrounding the Bengals’ depth at receiver with both Ochocinco (shoulder) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) injured, Brown had a sudden change of heart and re-signed Henry just weeks before the season.

Question: Mike Brown is the only owner in this league that was willing to give you one more opportunity. What does he mean to you?

Background: Brown took a tremendous amount of heat and the organization suffered further damage to their already poor image by bringing Henry back.

"I was scared at one point that I wouldn't have the opportunity to be back on the field," Henry said in a press conference shortly after rejoining the team.

With his career in the balance, Henry has managed to stay out of trouble. It is now 13 months and counting without incident.

New agent David Lee is trying to hold Henry to a higher standard. For the first time ever Henry worked out with Palmer this off-season in California and appears to have turned the corner.

Question: What element of your game makes you special?

Background: Henry possesses the perfect mix of speed, athleticism and size. His big-play ability is unmatched. Of his 107 career receptions twenty have gone for 20+ yards and eight more for 40+. If he were to ever play up to his potential over a 16-game schedule there is no telling what type of numbers he would put up.

Question: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

Background: With Ochocinco skipping the Bengals’ voluntary Organized Team Activities, Henry has gotten a chance to work in his spot in the starting lineup. He has received some rave reviews.

“He's a guy that's...really turned his life around. I'm excited to watch him play,” Palmer told the media after a workout earlier this week. “He's a guy that seems like he catches a touchdown every other ball that's thrown to him. He's that explosive.”

There is talk that the team would like to get Henry on the field for 60-70 snaps a game, mixing with projected starters Lavernaues Coles and Ochocinco. If he can stay healthy and out of trouble, Henry could approach 1000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.

The story is far from over for Henry, but Hard Knocks has the chance to help him start shaping a new message. For a team that desperately needs some good press, nobody can stand to gain more from the show than him.


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