Shaped up

Posted: 6:30 p.m.

Chad Ocho Cinco said it looked like Chris Henry hadn't missed a beat and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski couldn't disagree after Wednesday's impressive practice marked Henry's return following his reinstatement in the wake of a four-game NFL suspension.

Henry ("Like I haven't been away") said he dropped just one ball.

"That's a big help. I think we're back at strength where we were weak at one point where everybody was hurt," Ocho Cinco said. "Myself and T.J. (Houshmandzadeh), we're ready to rock. He looked good because he's been working out doing his own training away from us. He's in shape. He came out there like he hadn't missed a beat."

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Henry

The Bengals are keeping their powder dry when it comes to possibly activating Henry in Dallas on Sunday, the guy they hope is about to shed his perpetual bad guy image.

He has been a walking sports talk show after he got arrested four times between December 2005 and June 2006. Everything else has been either dismissed or dropped, but even his return in August sparked a soap opera of disagreement between the owner (who wanted him back) and the coach (who went on the record to say he didn't).

The Bengals would have to cut someone to get him in the lineup Sunday. But since he has a week-long exemption, the other option would be to wait until next week.

But can they wait?

Bratkowski, never one to pull punches, offered some high praise for Henry after watching him work.

"Chris looked like he was in excellent shape and that he was working extremely hard," Bratkowski said. "You can always tell with Chris where he's at when you watch how tight his running form is, how much quickness he has, because it usually takes him awhile. But you can tell he's worked really hard because he looked really good today."

Talk about two forces that need each other.

Henry has been suspended three times by the NFL for brushes with the law that have and haven't ended up in court. His latest problem (assault), which spurred his April 3 release, was dismissed.

And despite scoring a touchdown every five catches and eight of his 88 career catches going for at least 40 yards, he's broke.

So is the Bengals offense, which has just two touchdown passes in four games and no pass to a wide receiver longer than 26 yards.

Henry's return would be heavy with irony since it would pit NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's two poster examples for rehabbing the NFL's conduct policy.

Adam "Pacman" Jones, Henry's West Virginia teammate, is playing cornerback in Dallas after missing all of 2007 because of the one-year suspension Goodell handed him for an array of off-field problems.

"Just a little competition thing," said Henry of some give and take with Jones this week.

Bratkowski wouldn't say if Henry is good enough yet to supplant Antonio Chatman as the third receiver.

"You would have a role for him," he said.

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Bratkowski

Bratkowski said the club expects to get from Henry what it has gotten from him before and "be improved." What the Bengals are looking for is that production from the 2005 and 2006 seasons when he caught a touchdown pass once every 4.5 catches with 15 for 67. He dipped last year to two for 21 after he missed the first eight games with his second suspension.

Throwing three times a week with former University of Cincinnati quarterback Gino Guidugli, Henry stayed sharp enough to have Bratkowski talking about roles for him as soon as Sunday.

"We envision him to not only make the big play down the field, but he's had success underneath catching the ball and running with it as well," Bratkowski said.

The thinking is he'll stretch the field to open up things for Pro Bowl receivers Ocho Cinco and Houshmandzadeh.

Did he do that last year?

In the first half of '07 without Henry, Ocho Cinco had 47 catches and 479 yards for three touchdowns and a 10.2-yard average. With Henry, he caught 46 balls for 661 yards, five TDs and a 14.4 average.

But for Houshmandzadeh, it went the other way. Without Henry, he caught 62 balls for 674 yards and 10 touchdowns for a 10.9 per catch average. With him he went 50 for 469, two TDs and 9.4.

"By me being out there, it helps everybody else," Henry said.

If the Bengals hope he tilts the field on offense, Henry knows he has to change his life as much as he can change a game. He says he has.

"If I go out, I go out to eat with my girl or I go to the grocery store," he said. "I'm (usually) at the house playing games or playing with my kids."

Marvin Frazier, one of Henry's representatives, wasn't surprised to hear Wednesday's report.

"He's a hell of a player and a young guy ready to go," Frazier said. "I think he can be the spark they've been looking for. The team has been behind him 100 percent and he's done everything he's supposed to do. I'm proud of him. People can change their lives."

Henry has one last chance, but he said, "I'm not even looking at it like that. I'm just looking at playing some ball and making some plays and off the field carry myself as a professional, keep my mind on football. That's going to help with everything."

On the field, he doesn't hesitate.

"Big plays," he said.

He feels like he has a pretty important guy on his side.

"Carson (Palmer) is always positive, looking out for me," Henry said. "He's just been smiling every time he sees me walking past in the locker room."

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