Chargers should temper expectations for potential Hunter Henry return

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Out since May after suffering a torn right ACL, Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry did not participate in the rest of offseason work or training camp.

Even in the two weeks that Henry has practiced, he has not suited up in full pads.

While acknowledging that Henry has looked good in individual work and team drills while working with the scout team, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn also said he will need to see more before potentially activating the Arkansas product for his first live action in the Chargers’ AFC wild-card matchup on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

However, Lynn did not rule out the possibility that Henry could return to the field for the postseason.

“We want to give a good look at him this week to see where he’s at,” Lynn said. “I like the progress that he’s been making, but he hasn’t played football for a long time — since last December … so it’s been a while. He’s going to need to really show us that he’s ready [to play].

“I believe that the knee is stable. We did some things last week and thought he looked really good. Now, it’s just about conditioning, the chemistry with the offense and just playing football.”

The Chargers started the 21-day practice window for Henry to return to the field on Dec. 17. They have until Jan. 7 to place Henry on the active roster or on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

After being limited to individual work in his first week on the field, Henry participated in 7-on-7 and team drills last week, showing steady improvement. Lynn said Henry will work with the starters in practice this week.

“I think you leave the door open because there’s no reason to shut it right now,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco told Xtra 1360 Fox Sports San Diego last week. “Certainly, it’s not a slam dunk that he would play.

“We still need to see more on the practice field, and kind of take it from there. But certainly the door is open, what the percentage is there I’m not sure, but if you can leave it open, you might as well. We know how good of a player he is, and how much he can potentially help us.”

In two NFL seasons, Henry has 81 catches for 1,057 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, so he’s been a productive player.

However, it’s going to take some time for Henry to shake the rust off and get in football shape. He’s looked good working out before games the past two weeks. Henry suffered the right knee injury on the first day of organized team activities in May earlier this after making a cut on an out route, and like Lynn said, has not participated in a game setting since December of 2017.

“Everything is positive right now,” Henry said last week. “It’s cool to be back out there and kind of rolling. It’s also good because I’m kind of at the point in my rehab where the football stuff is already there.”

Henry turned 24 in December and has a lot more football left to play. The Chargers would be wise to take a cautious approach with one of the foundational players on their roster for the foreseeable future, and not be overly concerned about the potential impact he can make in the playoffs this season. In his absence, tight ends Antonio Gates and Virgil Green have combined for 47 catches, 543 yards and three touchdowns.

Melvin Ingram‘s return from injury in 2013 is a template the Chargers can work from. Ingram also suffered a torn ACL in May 2013 during offseason work. He worked diligently in his rehab and returned to the field in December, playing in six games — including two postseason contests — finishing with seven tackles, a sack and an interception.

In his first game action that year, Ingram played just 13 snaps, finishing with an assisted tackle in a 37-14 win over the New York Giants on Dec. 8, 2013. If Henry is active, expect a similar workload.

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