FOXBOROUGH — Hunter Henry has a commanding presence.
One of the Patriots’ two prized free agent tight end acquisitions, Henry is among a bevy of new faces getting their first taste of what it’s like to play in the New England program.
Henry, who spent his previous five years with the Chargers, is being counted on along with Jonnu Smith, to help the Patriots return to the two tight-end looks they have run so successfully in the past.
Since Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and subsequent trade to the Buccaneers, the club has struggled to generate consistent production at the position.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound Henry led the tight end group through its paces during Thursday’s organized team activity practice, and despite his newness to New England and the offense, his polish and route-running skills were obvious.
Hunter also has a reputation as a voracious blocker, but those skills will have to stay on the shelf until training camp, when contact commences.
Working with Matt Lacosse, Devin Asiasi, and Troy Fumagalli (Smith was not present and Dalton Keene did not participate), Henry was at the head of the class, with coaches stopping several times to pepper him with praise and point out his techniques to the others.
Henry clearly is a man happy and comfortable in his new surroundings.
“Oh man, it’s been good. Super excited to be here,” said Hunter, borrowing one of Gronkowski’s favorite terms. “It’s been a lot of fun. This time of year, I really honestly enjoy because you can kind of slow things down a little bit. It’s starting to pick up as we go, but we got to slowly build as we get going. This time is huge. Obviously, on this side of the ball and what we’re doing, we’re all new. There’s a lot of new guys. So just trying to build that timing, that chemistry off the field, on the field, it’s going really well.”
Henry is one of a number of high-profile newcomers to this version of the Foxborough FC and he’s been enjoying the acclimation process. There’s been a lot of bonding inside and outside the walls of One Patriots Place as the newbies blend in.
“I think it’s always different, but it’s a good different,” said Henry, who worked out with several Patriots in Long Beach shortly after signing. “Very excited [and] pumped to be here and really have enjoyed my times these past, basically, two months … really enjoying everything about it. The facility, the guys, everything that we’re doing here. Excited to continue to keep building.’'
He also is embracing the challenge of rejuvenating and restoring a Patriots offense that often sputtered in 2020, and he has high expectations.
“I’m focused on what I’ve got to do, and we’re focused on our room,” he said. “Me and Jonnu, we’ve got to be dialed in on what we’ve got to do. We always have to keep elevating each other. That starts with us, it starts with the receivers, and it starts with the O-line. This is the ultimate team sport, so we’ve all got to elevate each other, compete at a high level. When all of us are clicking at a high level, it’s going to be hard to stop.”
Among the most notable fledgling Patriots is Mac Jones, and Henry had a positive review for the rookie quarterback.
“Mac’s doing a great job. He’s obviously new, and I’m new. We’re just all going through it together, him being even new to the atmosphere of this next level [of football],” said Henry. “He’s doing a great job. Good to have him here, and we’re all excited for him.”
Henry is also in the process of building a rapport with Cam Newton and, like all of Newton’s teammates past and present, Hunter is impressed by the former MVP’s aura.
“Yeah, great energy. Obviously very proven in this league. I mean, that goes without saying. He’s a great player,” said Henry. “It’s fun to be around him. He’s great in the locker room, great on the field, great off the field. So, it’s been a blast.”
Bill Belichick reminded reporters that the offseason program is geared toward education, not expectations.
“Well again, for all the players at this point, I don’t think this is a big evaluation period. I think this is a teaching period and everybody’s really trying to get in shape and get comfortable with what we’re doing and so forth,” the coach said. “So, whether it’s WebEx meetings or individual drills or a sprinkling of some group and team drills in there, we’ll see how it all comes together with everybody. I don’t think there’s anything, any revelations at this point on anybody.”