It has been a unique season for tight end, Hunter Henry. The important thing about this season is that he has been healthy for all 11 games this season. He, along with the Chargers offense, has been in a transitional stage.
The offense went through the offseason with Tyrod Taylor as the starting quarterback. He played in the first game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. He was unable to go against the Kansas City Chiefs, so rookie Justin Herbert was thrust into the starting lineup.
"Obviously, we saw a lot of glimpses during camp. I was like, goodness gracious," said Henry.
Henry has been a big security blanket for Herbert. He is a player that the rookie quarterback looks for to moves the chains. Henry said he had seen some positives in training camp from Herbert, but there were still questions when the rookie was thrown into the Chiefs game.
"We didn't know what it was going to be like," explained Henry. "We knew he was talented, and all this stuff. We needed to make plays for him. We knew he was probably the future. Then he just kind of exploded on the scene just the way he handled the huddle. The leadership, in a quiet way is awesome. It's exciting to see him kind of blossom into what he's going to be."
Since then, it has been the Herbert show. He has thrown for 22 touchdowns and ran three others into the end zone. He has shown traits that are rare for a rookie quarterback.
"Getting us in the right place," explained Henry. "Sometimes, as a rookie seeing the defense and adjusting. Sometimes it's a lot that people don't really realize, like switching the play or seeing a defense, seeing the safeties roll down, and seeing the covers. Maybe they're bringing something that we weren't expecting on that play and getting us out of that."
Last Sunday against the Jets, Herbert was really slinging the football. Henry was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass. The play that had everyone talking was a touchdown throw he had with Keenan Allen. Herbert went to his left, saw the corner turned around, looking at Allen, and threw a rocket.
"It was like, wow, that that balls kind of humming and it's coming for sure. He's got a little juice behind it," said Henry.
The Bolts ended up winning the game, but an 18-point lead over the winless Jets turned into a one-score game quickly. The Chargers have been giving up leads all season long.
"I was happy with the win. I just felt a little salty," explained Henry. "I think we just got to take a little bit more pride in it, man. We got to put teams away. Especially the way we were dominating that game. We just, it's just little things, man."
Speaking of Allen, that is a player that Henry has looked up to since being drafted in 2016. He admires the work ethic the pro bowl receiver brings.
"Watching him in different routes and how to set guys up, release game, off the line, different things like that I definitely have watched a lot of what he does and try to implement it in my game," said Henry.
The fifth-year tight end has many players who have helped shaped his game. When he was drafted, the starting quarterback was Philip Rivers. The veteran quarterback threw 17 touchdown passes in three seasons (Henry missed 2018 with an ACL injury).
Rivers is now an Indianapolis Colt. He has his Colts riding high to a 7-3 record and in first place of the AFC South.
"I definitely keep up with Phil," Henry explained. "Me and Phil grew pretty close. Over my four years with him. Phil's a good friend and kind of took me under his wing. I feel like and such a good vet and person to me when I was young, just coming into this league. Happy to see him having success."
Rivers was a big part of his maturation into the league, but so was working next to one of the greatest tight ends to play the game, Antonio Gates. Henry learned so much in that time.
"I think work ethic is one big thing," explained Henry. "Those guys always came to work hard workers, they continue. I think chemistry is big with those two guys. I think it was fun to always see. I mean, those dudes were together for so long.
"The details of the game. So, they just knew so much about the game, knew so much about the defense, and just like broke it down, knew exactly what was going to happen almost before it was going to happen. So those are a few things that I took from those guys just being veteran savvy players that played in this league for a long time."
Henry and the offense had to transition from Rivers to Taylor to now Herbert. Rivers was more of a stand in the pocket and work from there. In contrast, Taylor was more about moving around and finding the right play. Now Herbert can move around the pocket and has a huge arm.
"You're on alert the whole time you're running a route, and you always have to be ready to adjust, to kind of play scramble drill, and try to get open as long as you can," said Henry.
Henry is continuing to put in the work. He wants to help the team turn their season around. They are 3-7 and have a chance to finish 9-7, but it will be a tough road. They will lean on their rookie quarterback as he continues to figure the game out.
"He's really locked in, he loves ball, and he wants to grow, he wants to continue to improve, he wants to win," explained Henry. "So, it's really fun to kind of be alongside that, and just help him and to grow because I kind of get to be a part of that process. It's fun."