Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Quadree Henderson is a Wilmington, DE native and that means his NFL debut Thursday night in the team’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles will take place roughly a half an hour from where he grew up. Henderson, who was signed this offseason as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh, should have a large contingent of family and friends in the stands of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia Thursday night and head coach Mike Tomlin talked Tuesday during his press conference about how it will be interesting to see how the young wide receiver responds to that somewhat unique circumstance.
“Q’s going to be a 30 minutes from home, I think,” Tomlin said of Henderson. “I’m sure it’s going to add to the intrigue of his story for the first time. I just walked off the walk-thru field with him and had a nice conversation in that regard. But it’s a lot of those stories and it’s fun to watch those guys adjust and deal with the environment and the issues that are associated with professional football. It’s all a part of it and their ability to deal is usually reflected in their performance.”
While Henderson might not see a lot of playing time at wide receiver Thursday night against the Eagles, according to him, he’ll get a long look in that contest as a punt and kickoff returner.
“I just found out I’ll be the starting punt returner and starting kick returner, No. 1 up there for right now,” Henderson said late Tuesday morning, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s a big opportunity for me to go out there and showcase my skill.”
Henderson, who measured in at this year’s scouting combine at 5’8″, 192-pounds, had quite a college career at Pittsburgh as a return man as he returned 37 punts for 495 yards and three touchdowns in addition to 73 kickoffs for 1,942 yards and 4 touchdowns. That success he had in college, however, really means nothing to Tomlin as the team makes their final preparations for Thursday night.
“His resume means absolutely nothing, as does everyone else’s in that regard,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “I just think that that’s what’s so exciting about getting into stadiums and playing.”
With Henderson entering the NFL as a very inexperienced, unpolished and undersized wide receiver, he’s really going to have to impress the Steelers coaches with his return ability during the preseason if he wants to have any hope of ultimately making the 53-man roster. We’ve seen players in similar situations to Henderson pull off that feat before, however, as Stefan Logan did it in 2009 thanks to an awesome showing as returner during the preseason that included him having 5 kickoff returns for 185 yards and 9 punt returns for 191 yards and a touchdown.
The new kickoff rules this year could also play in Henderson’s favor starting Thursday night as he should have a little more initial running room to work with in addition to players from the other team not having a running start prior to the ball being kicked. Tomlin was asked Tuesday what he’ll be looking for from his team during the Thursday night game when it comes to the kickoff rule changes.
“More than anything, I want us to display fundamentals,” Tomlin said. “Obviously on a kickoff return team I want us to gain possession of the ball. The three guys patrolling the vast amount of grass back there is new and different and different than in the past and I think not to acknowledge gaining possession of the ball first above all other things would be inappropriate.
“I’m looking at how guys display an ability to play fast while they get accustomed to the new rules. Oftentimes, in the preseason in particular, those veteran players play at a different speed than young guys. I would Imagine that there will be some adjustments for all guys, whether they’re rookies or veterans, in that area of play and I just, quite frankly, want to see who adjust the quickest or the smoothest in terms of playing speed.”
Henderson should have the playing speed element down pat because if there’s one main positive attribute he had in college it was his ability to reach his top speed very quickly. Should Henderson wind up putting on a show for his many friends and family in attendance Thursday night, he’ll certainly be a player we talk quite a bit more about through the weekend when it comes to him improving his chances of making the 53-man roster.