Updated: 9:35 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - A year ago it would have been an utterly unfathomable scene.
But there was former unemployed NFL bad boy Chris Henry greeting the media with two-year-old Chris Jr., in his arms after the Bengals' first practice of the season at Georgetown College.
"Chris is doing great. He's really balling out there. He's focused," said rookie fullback Fui Vakapuna.
It was Vakapuna's wife that drove little Chris to practice and the couple has a pretty good idea how far Henry has come. Henry's wife, Leini, is Vakapuna's cousin as family has become the biggest thing in Henry's life.
"I love spending time with my kids," said Henry, who has three children three years old and younger. "I was living like I was still in college, you know?"
His recent break before camp is a prime example. He went to North Carolina to visit his wife's parents and then they went Henry's home in New Orleans. But he made certain he steered out of trouble.
"A lot of people came over to the house, but it was more like barbecues," he said. "It wasn't out in the clubs. If they don't like the way I'm chilling now, you know?"
Henry's got a lot of converts. The two most famous, of course, are his owner and his quarterback. Carson Palmer gave him a lift to camp Thursday. After the last training camp, Mike Brown gave Henry a more controversial lift when the club signed him right after the last training camp despite head coach Marvin Lewis' public denunciation of him at the start of training camp.
"Without him, who knows where I'd be?" Henry asked of Brown. "Who knows? I have no idea. I know I had some teams stay away from me. They didn't want to take that chance."
Henry heard what Brown said a few days ago at the training camp luncheon and it made him feel even better. Brown said one of the reasons he was for filming Hard Knocks is that he wanted the nation to see what kind of guys the Bengals really have and specifically talked about how Henry would surprise people.
"Yeah, I saw it. It really meant a lot to me. He has trust in me. That was great," Henry said. "He's a good guy. I've talked to him. Whenever I see him, I always say, 'Thank you.' ''
Henry became a walking exhibit of new commissioner Roger Goodell's get-tough policy with four arrests in a span of six months in 2005 and 2006. An assault charge against him was dropped last year, but it was costly enough for the Bengals to release him and for Goodell to suspend him for the first four games.
"I've been good for awhile. It wasn't my fault but I couldn't say it wasn't my fault because of my past," he said of the last incident.
Henry had the NFL shield tattooed on one of his wrists when he was in high school, the shield that Goodell invoked to suspend him three times and nearly end his career. Last year Henry had a tattoo that says "Blessed" put behind one of his ears when he sensed his life turning for the better.
Now as he heads into the last year of his deal, Henry is also trying to turn around a career that looked so bright before his first suspension early in his second season of 2006. Before that, he had scored eight touchdowns in his first 17 NFL games. He's scored 11 in the last 30.
But he's not talking about numbers.
"I used to think like that, but now I'm just worried about winning," he said. "Except for that '05 season, I really haven't done much."
After Chad Ochocinco missed most of the spring sessions, Henry looked extremely good working in Ochocinco's spot at the X receiver. Good enough that some in camp thought he was the best receiver.
Like most on Friday, Henry looked rusty. He dropped a couple of passes over the middle (rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga stuck him hard enough that he stung his shoulder), but he also made a nice stretching fingertip grab over the middle on a pass from backup quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.
"He said he felt like he didn't have his legs under him on the first day," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "He showed flashes of the things we know he can do."
Which is making the big play on the long ball. Henry has eight touchdown passes of 25 yards or longer from Palmer, which is why Palmer calls him Randy Moss Jr.
"I looked up to Randy in high school," Henry said. "For him to think of me as anything near Randy is big for me. I'm going to go out there and make big plays for him."
But on Friday he only had eyes for another Junior. Chris Henry, with little Dad-like dreadlocks.
"His hair," Chris Henry Sr., said, "is better than mine."
SMITH SCHOOLED: Still no word from Andre Smith's agent via phone, e-mail or Twitter. With another Alvin Keels client, running back Leon Washington, saying he's not close to a contract extension with the Jets, it's unknown if that has an impact on the Smith negotiations.
But one thing is certain: Offensive line coach Paul Alexander is trying to make sure Smith is going to get enough of the playbook as possible even though he's not here.
Former Bengals offensive lineman Larry Moore, Central State's offensive line coach who is interning with the Bengals this week, is taking handwritten notes like he's Smith sitting in the meetings. Then he scans the notes and sends several e-mails to Smith each day.
"I sent him a quiz last night and he took it and replied," Alexander said. "It's keeping his mind in it. That's the best part of it."
BIG HITTERS: It looks like the first day in pads is that 3 p.m. practice Sunday and Lewis figures to roll out the Oklahoma drill, the one-on-one hitting drill that gets everyone fired up.
Running back Cedric Benson and middle linebacker Dhani Jones flashed a preview in an 11-on-11 drill Friday when they bumped and jawed after Benson ran the ball twice.
That type of stuff doesn't usually start happening until a few days into camp with a couple of 90-degree days. But it had to be barely 80 Sunday and pleasant.
"That first practice, you get a lot of extra emotion," said Palmer, a big admirer of both guys.
And you'll see him handing the ball off to Benson a lot. Palmer got a big kick out of it when they first walked out on the field and Benson said to him, "Doesn't this feel great just to be out here?"
"He's a tough back. He runs physical. He doesn't take a play off," Palmer said. "Whether we're in full gear, helmets, or T-shirts and hats. He's going 100 miles an hour. It's best to stay out of his way."
PALMER'S TAKE: Palmer, who hadn't thrown in about a week, said he was rusty but felt fine throwing. He had zip but not pinpoint control. A pitch count could come into play in Saturday's first double session.
"There wasn't a lot of install," Palmer said. "You start off slow the first couple of days and then you build up to more of the playbook. It wasn't real heavy, but we got a lot of good stuff done."
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» Lewis liked the fact the workout wasn't marred by penalties, mistakes, and fumbles.
"None of those showed up today. It's a good start," Lewis said.
» Lewis unveiled a new look Friday by keeping the offense in the stadium and putting the defense on the lower practice field. The constant wet weather has played some havoc with the lower field, but Georgetown athletic director Eric Ward said the stadium field is in its best shape in years.
» The upper soccer field may not be used for the first couple of days. Ward says the stretch of about 25 days with cooler than normal temperatures has been hard on the Bermuda grass.
» Ward is pleased that about 2,000 people showed for the workout for what was a late-arriving crowd.
» Fullback Jeremi Johnson, looking like he's in the 275-pound range, was in shape enough to participate in the first practice of training camp for the first time in years. Bratkowski offered, "I think he came in and looked better than we expected.
» But Vakapuna is still the starter, although the seventh-rounder from BYU says he's only focused on making the team. The No. 1 spot still didn’t get him out of carrying his helmet as well the helmets of veteran backs J.D. Runnels and Brian Leonard.
» The king of the post-practice autographs were a pair of rookies in Maualuga and tight end Chase Coffman. They signed until pretty much the crowd had to leave at 5:30 p.m.
» Benson, Palmer, Ochocinco, Maualuga and Roy Williams got the biggest reaction from the fans upon entering the field for the start of practice.
» A group of approximately 50 fans were already lined up on the steps of the stands next to the fence waiting for the players to arrive to practice. Visible were several Palmer jerseys, a few Ochocinco jerseys, and a Maualuga jersey.
» When one fan shouted duirng practice, "Chad, I love you," The Ocho, sans helmet, put his hand to his ear like a phone.
» Two visible things showing Hard Knocks is around. There was a camera lift in the corner of the end zone and a soundboard at the 50-yard line on the sidelines.
DOW WAIVED: The Bengals made their first cut Friday when free-agent rookie guard Colin Dow failed his physical. That gives them 78 players in camp and under contract, two under the limit.