Posted: 8:30 p.m.
Chris Henry has gone from a marked man to Carson Palmer's X Man. The guy once on the poster of NFL Players Gone Wild has become a picture of serenity this spring.
So far, so good.
ESPN's First Take wants him on the show next week. Sirius Radio has called. Lance McAlister and 700 The Nation's Station loom. And Henry's agent, David Lee, says Reebok is interested in giving him a contract, a sure sign that he is outrunning his past.
"I just got tired of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Henry said this week after another impressive practice. "I had to do it for me and my family. I love to play football and I didn't want to blow it."
Instead of blowing it, he and his teammates are savoring it. And not just Palmer, who is hoping he and Henry can click like they did before Henry met NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. When Goodell suspended him for the first time in October 2006, Henry had caught 42 balls from Palmer for eight touchdowns in his first 17 NFL games.
And it was Palmer who set the tone a week before the voluntary workouts even began last month.
"He's had an offseason like no other; he's worked here every single day," Palmer said. "He has a great attitude. I'm just really proud of the guy. I'm happy for him. He's at a good place in his life, a good place for his family. He's showed up to work here and he will all year long. There's not a doubt about that."
"He's changed," agreed defensive tackle Domata Peko this week. "People think he has this bad image, but when you get to know him, he's really a cool guy, a humble guy, a regular person just like everyone else."
A year ago Henry was in the quagmire of NFL exile. He was off the team, cut after his fifth arrest following a run-in with a man that ended in an assault charge. Henry was later cleared, but no team picked him up. After his four arrests in a stunning span of the six months from December 2005 to June 2006 that ranged from marijuana possession to DUI to waving a gun at a police officer, he had become untouchable.
Until the Bengals turned to him at the end of training camp with their receiving corps decimated by injuries to Chad Ochocinco, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Andre Caldwell. Even though Henry's last case was dropped, Goodell still suspended him a third time. It was for the first four games of the season and the inactivity showed when he finished with just 19 catches and two touchdowns.
"I think Chris said it best. He turned around his life because he wanted to turn around his life," Lee said. "The person is the one who has to do it and he has to get the credit. The Bengals have been very instrumental. I really believe the effort and time they've put into it have also been a major reason he's been able to do it."
Head coach Marvin Lewis wasn't a big fan of the decision to bring back Henry last August, but Lewis famously says he sees better than he hears. And on Tuesday Lewis praised Henry.
"This is the first chance Chris has had an offseason to really work with the quarterbacks for the full time," Lewis said. "(He had a) great foundation of strength and conditioning prior to us getting started."
The 6-4, 200-pound Henry, so aptly nicknamed "Slim," made his numbers tracking the long ball with his long legs and even longer reach out of the Z spot. With Ochocinco sitting out the voluntaries and 10-year vet Laveranues Coles moving into Houshmandzadeh's Z spot, Henry is getting his first exposure as a starter in at the X position The Ocho has held down for eight years and is getting the most practice reps of his career.
There isn't much difference between those outside spots. The X, usually opposite the tight end, has more sight adjustments and blitz breakoffs than the Z and the Bengals would like Henry to become as effective running slants and digs as he is running the fly pattern and skinny post.
"It's pretty much the same thing as the Z, the same type of routes," Henry said. "But the quarterback is really looking for you a little bit more. Like the go-to guy. That's what I like about it."
Henry not only appreciates Palmer's attention on the field (they have hooked up on eight touchdown passes of at least 25 yards), but the encouragement he has given him off it.
"He's always supported me and talked to me when I was going through tough times," Henry said. "He's a good guy. He's always looking for me and I'm there all the time."
A year ago there was nothing. Now there is the potential for everything.
"It's totally different now. I'm not worried about anything negative in my life. I'm enjoying my time out here with my teammates and going home to be with my family," Henry said.
Not only does Goodell's death penalty (indefinite suspension) loom over his head, but so does the need to care for his family. His fiancée, Loleini, has a three-year-old stepdaughter and he has sons ages two and six months. Another daughter lives with her mother in another city.
"It's amazing. It's like totally different. It's hard work," Henry said. "I spend all my time with them, really. They deserve that. That's what I'm going to do. Be a good dad. When I'm not there I'll be here doing my job, going hard at it. Trying to go to the Pro Bowl and trying to win the Super Bowl."
Lee has helped things by making sure the family moved out of a downtown apartment and into a suburban house that offers everyone more comfort. Peko, who has children 1 and 4, has also opened up his home for barbeques and play dates.
They've become close and Peko says, "We'll watch our kids wrestle and just sit and chill." Defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene is also a frequent visitor to the Pekos in a comfortable setting for Loleini, whom shares Polynesian roots with Peko, Fanene and their wives.
When told it sounded like he's giving a lot of thought to the people he's surrounding himself with, Henry agreed it's been an important factor. He had to smile when asked if he needed Goodell to suspend him three times to get him on the right road.
"I'm not going to say I needed that, but he was just doing his job," Henry said. "I put myself in some bad situations and he was just doing his job. He always asks people about me. All the time. He wants to see me succeed. Just checking on me, making sure everything is all right."
It sounds like he's got plenty of company.
SLANTS AND SCREENS
» No word from the agent for former Cowboys linebacker Greg Ellis on Wednesday if the Bengals are actively pursuing his client.
» Fullback Jeremi Johnson apparently isn't ready to take the field yet. He was in the locker room Tuesday for the first time since voluntaries began but didn't participate. Lewis said Johnson spent the first two weeks with his trainer.
» Some lineups from Tuesday's workout that don't really mean all that much since it seems a lot of positions are being divided up with pretty much equal reps:
The No. 2 offensive line was centered by Dan Santucci with Scott Kooistra playing right tackle, Anthony Collins playing left tackle, Andrew Crummey playing right guard and Evan Mathis playing left guard. The No. 3 line went with Collins at left tackle, Mathis at left guard, fourth-rounder Jonathan Luigs at center, Dennis Roland at right tackle and rookie Colin Dow at right guard.
Now, that means absolutely nothing because the backups have to be able to play virtually every spot. So the next time the media goes out there, Collins could be playing right tackle, Kooistra could be playing one of the guards, Roland might be playing left tackle and Santucci and Luigs might be at a guard.
» Here's something else that doesn't mean much because we know that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer loves to tinker and on Tuesday early on he did have Antwan Odom and rookie Michael Johnson as his rush ends on passing downs. If left end Robert Geathers (knee) isn't back next week, it will be the week after in the mandatory minicamp. If not then, it will be the first day of training camp.