Chris Henry eager (and needed) in Cincinnati

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

On Sundays this season, Chris Henry sits at home and watches from afar as the Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) continue to dig themselves into a hole.

CHRIS HENRY
Wide Receiver  Cincinnati Bengals

Career Stats

RecYdsAvgLngTD
881,37015.67117

Yet, the suspended wide receiver believes he can be the person to help get the Bengals' offense out of its early slumber.

Cincinnati is definitely missing Henry in the lineup. With the exception of its Week 3 showing against the New York Giants, the Bengals' 30th-ranked offense has appeared ordinary at best. It's been predictable without a consistent third receiving threat, which has been an important staple in Cincinnati.

In the midst of serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, Henry is biding his time while the Bengals are off to their worst start in five seasons. Henry joins other high-profile receivers such as Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos and Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers who were forced to miss games with their respective teams to start the season.

Henry has one more game to sit out Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (0-3) before he can rejoin the Bengals and make a contribution on the field. He will make his 2008 debut Oct. 5 on the road against the Dallas Cowboys.

"Man, I'm just so anxious, excited and ready to get back out there," Henry told ESPN.com Tuesday. "The hardest part is watching the games on TV and knowing that, if I was out there, I would be able to help, especially with our team going through what we're going through right now."

Many in Cincinnati disagreed with Henry's signing. He was released after his fifth arrest in three years following an alleged incident on March 31 in which charges of assault and criminal damaging eventually were dropped.

 
 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 Chris Henry will make his 2008 debut Oct. 5 against the Cowboys.

The Bengals began in hot pursuit of re-signing Henry once charges were cleared and he became eligible again to play in the NFL. Without a doubt, it was a controversial move. But after three weeks of losing football in Cincinnati, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the team can use Henry's skill set.

Here are some things to ponder with the Bengals and Henry:

  • Since the 2007 season, Cincinnati is 2-9 without Henry in the lineup. Last year when Henry came back from his eight-game suspension, the Bengals went 5-3.
  • High draft picks Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell were expected to replace Henry and neither rookie has caught a pass this season. The Bengals realized early in training camp that the pair was not developing fast enough to make an instant impact and that, in part, led to Cincinnati signing Henry.
  • Bengals tight end Ben Utecht, who was expected to take over as the new third option in Cincinnati's offense, is injured and off to a slow start. Utecht has just two catches for 10 yards.
  • With most of the coverage being rolled toward T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Ocho Cinco, quarterback Carson Palmer is left with few throwing options. Ocho Cinco, in particular, is constantly being shadowed. He has just eight catches for 88 yards and on pace for his worst statistical season since his rookie year in 2001.

"He has to keep doing what he was doing," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of Ocho Cinco after the Giants game. "That's probably as well as I've seen him handle that kind of situation in a while without getting frustrated. He kept playing and playing, and when there were opportunities, he was right where he needed to be."

The aforementioned struggles have been a recipe for disaster. Cincinnati's offense is averaging just 13.3 points per game.

One player can't be the cure-all, but the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Henry has shown the ability to make big plays. Despite limited playing time, Henry h
as 17 touchdowns and averages 15.6 yards per catch in 35 career games. Paired with Ocho Cinco, Cincinnati would have two deep threats and could free up more space for Houshmandzadeh to do damage underneath.

"I want to give them an extra burst and be that extra person that can make plays out there and make it easier for everyone else," Henry said. "Because when I'm out there it seems like no one gets double-teamed, and that's going to help us."

Individually, Henry, 25, knows this is an important time in for him. Immaturity nearly ended his career too soon, but his immense talent has given him one last chance at NFL stardom.

Henry is working out six days a week with a personal trainer and says he's already in game shape and ready to go.

So what can Bengals fans expect when Henry returns in Week 5?

"First off, off the field I'm focused," Henry said candidly. "I'm really going to prove to everybody with this off-the-field stuff that I can fly straight and do everything that I'm supposed to do and stay out of trouble.

"As far as playing, they [the fans] should expect big things from me, because I'm going out there to make plays."

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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