It’s no secret that the Patriots’ offense has struggled through the first several weeks of the season, but the seeming disappearance of a top target for Mac Jones from last season has also made many headlines.
The lack of incorporation of both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in the offensive game plan thus far has left many questioning why. For one, you don’t bring in two of the best tight ends in the league and pay them the big bucks to keep them sidelined game after game. But also, Henry specifically had the best season of his career in 2021, making his lack of inclusion far more confusing.
Through the first four games of the season, Henry totaled just five receptions for 41 yards, a far cry from what he accomplished in that time in his first season in New England. But his involvement has drastically increased over the last two weeks, ranking in eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
With such a noticeable difference from the start of the season, Henry finally provided an explanation during his media availability on Monday.
"“I feel good. It’s just something people might not know, but I kind of played through a shoulder injury all last year and then had surgery after the season, actually. So, a healthy shoulder feels good. I think just trying to work through that this offseason too, worked through that through training camp, kind of get comfortable in it, that’s just kind of something I was coming back from. But I feel like I built a lot of strength, was there to focus a lot on my lower body as well. And I just feel good, feel comfortable right now. Feeling strong — definitely in the trenches feeling good.”"
Other than the shock of hearing he suffered the injury before last season, learning he had off-season shoulder surgery provided the much-needed context for his performance so far this season. It’s possible that is in fact the reason for his slow start, providing a big sigh of relief for most of those in New England.
Henry continued to discuss the work he put in since the surgery and made a point to mention his improvement with blocking. As a weaker area of his skillset, his development has been clear in that area as of late which has helped the offense overall.
"“It’s been a lot better than last year, a lot better than earlier in the season too. I feel like over the last probably four weeks I really focused in on it. I try to spend a little bit more extra time on it too, realizing it’s a pivotal point for us — especially at our position — to be successful. So, I’ve spent a little bit of extra time on some fundamentals and just trying to get right so that on Sundays it just kind of comes natural. Just trying to get more reps at it. Feeling pretty comfortable, but I got to continue that.”"
His blocking has improved so much so that even Bill Belichick made sure to mention it to reporters on Monday, as well. The coach then went on to give incredibly high praise to the tight end and complimented him in the more recent Belichick-ian way.
"“Glad we have him. He’s been a great addition to our team, to our organization on and off the field. Really just an exceptional player, an exceptional person that does everything we’ve asked him to do for the year and a half that he’s been here.”"
With a great performance in Cleveland on Sunday, totaling four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, hopefully it’s an indication of what’s to come. Whether Bailey Zappe or Mac Jones are under center, involving Henry more not only in the game plan but especially in the red zone needs to be at the top of the list.