Crucial audition on tap for Henson

For the first time since the 2000 college football season, Charley Casserly watched Drew Henson throw a ball with laces, not seams, on Wednesday morning.

What was the verdict of the Texans' general manager following a workout at the club's training complex in Houston, where Henson prepped for the final time before a Thursday audition in front of dozens of NFL coaches, personnel directors and scouts?

"He threw the ball very well, made every pass, and I can't imagine there's anything that teams will ask him to do [on Thursday] that he won't be able to do," Casserly said. "He's big and has a strong arm, he moved well, and I think people will be impressed by him."

The cynics might point out, with some justification, that Casserly can't be anything but laudatory of the Henson workout on Wednesday. Part of Casserly's job, after all, is to stoke the flames and help enhance the trade market for the former University of Michigan star, who last week abandoned his baseball career to pursue an NFL career.

Casserly, though, is a straight-shooter, not given to embellishment and hyperbole. And after working the last several weeks to reconnect with his dormant football skills, there is no reason to feel Henson won't be ready for the Thursday casting call in front of curious NFL evaluators.

League and team sources said that five franchises -- Buffalo, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Miami and Green Bay -- have indicated the most interest.

Henson, who turns 24 on Friday, has not played a competitive snap since starting eight games for the Wolverines in 2000. He completed 61.6 percent of his attempts for 2,146 yards that season, with 18 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. For his career in Ann Arbor, he completed 214 of 374 passes for 2,946 yards, with 24 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

But the strong-armed Henson, who in 2001 signed a six-year, $17 million baseball deal with the New York Yankees, started just eight times in his 27 appearances. He took 441 snaps, roughly 270 of them in his junior season in 2000, so there is not a large body of work with which to evaluate him.

There is little doubt, given that he walked away from a guaranteed $12 million remaining on the final three years of his baseball contract, that Henson is serious about his future in football. He has been working out in Bradenton, Fla., where the representation firm IMG operates its own complex, with longtime NFL quarterbacks coach Larry Kennan. Word from Kennan is that, beyond his obvious physical skills, Henson is bigger now and has demonstrated great field presence.

He will work out Thursday under optimum conditions. With rain in the forecast, the session will be held at the Texans' indoor practice bubble. Kennan will conduct the throwing segment and then the Texans will oversee the combine-type drills. Houston will provide one receiver for the workout but, in a key move, most of Henson's targets will be IMG clients with whom he has worked in recent weeks.

Because the Texans technically own Henson's football rights, having cleverly expended a sixth-round choice in 2003 to secure him, scouts leaguewide have cited tampering rules in opting not to speak for attribution about his potential. The common thread among all of the clubs represented Thursday is an undeniable curiosity factor. There certainly is not a consensus yet on Henson's value.

"People keep saying he'd be no worse than the third-best [quarterback prospect] if he was in this year's draft," said one AFC general manager. "I don't know that yet. This workout will answer some of the questions at least."

Casserly said Wednesday that he expects teams legitimately interested in Henson will probably request permission for individual workouts. The Texans' priority remains to sign Henson to an NFL contract and then trade him. Some have suggested Casserly will seek a second-rounder as compensation, but the Houston general manager said he has no idea yet what the market will bear in terms of a price tag.

If the Texans don't sign Henson by noon the day before the '04 draft, he will go back into the player pool, and can be chosen by another team. The chief benefit in such a maneuver would be that Henson would earn a much more lucrative contract than if he signs a deal with Houston, which is limited by rookie pool rules in what it can pay.

But the upside to signing with the Texans this spring, as opposed to going back into the draft, is that Henson could essentially choose the team to which Houston trades him. A trip back to the draft could be risky because Henson would have no control over where he began his NFL career.

"This is how [a team] beats the system," said Casserly, of a Henson trade. "How else are you going to get a young quarterback of this caliber? You can say you're going to take him in the draft but there are no guarantees. With a trade, he's yours, and you don't have to worry about somebody jumping ahead of you and grabbing him."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.