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Hunter Henry producing in his return to the Chargers’ offense

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Like the talented player he replaced in Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry wants to contribute each time he’s on the field.

Since his return from a fractured knee three weeks ago, Henry’s succeeded in that effort, totaling 18 receptions for 244 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

That’s the type of production NFL observers expected from the Arkansas product before he suffered a tibia plateau fracture to his left knee during a season-opening win against Indianapolis Colts, which forced Henry to miss four games.

Henry also missed all but one game last season because of a torn ACL in his right knee.

“Every time I’m out there I try to make an impact,” Henry said. “But when you’ve been out for a while, and I had that injury right at Week 1, it sucks really. I worked my tail off and the training staff did a great job, so when I came back it was kind of a smooth transition.

“So it felt good. My conditioning feels good. Everything went according to plan, and I never really had any setbacks. And when I stepped in, I just really wanted to try and take the offense to another level and add a different aspect that maybe it didn’t have.”

Similar to Gates, Henry has built a rapport with quarterback Philip Rivers that included the two getting together for offseason workouts in Florida.

Henry said the key to his success has been simple — practice.

“Honestly, these practice reps are huge for me to get my confidence up and feeling good about these routes, that daily hard work makes Sundays a little easier,” he said. “That’s just how I always try to approach it. It’s just continue to do what I’m doing, pay attention to the details, run my routes crisp and use my body well.”

Running back Austin Ekeler said Henry brings playmaking ability and energy to the huddle.

“Hunter is one of those guys as a teammate off the field that brings positivity to the locker room,” Ekeler said. “He jokes around, he’s not super serious and he’s a good guy. So I feel like having him around on the field makes the chemistry better.

“And then on the field, as long as I’ve been here he’s always made plays, even in the blocking game. He can do it all; he’s a pretty good overall tight end and probably one of the best in the league as far as blocking, running routes and catching it. It’s great to have it back.”

The Chargers could run more two-tight end sets to take advantage of Henry’s unique skill set. Since his return, the Chargers have run 19 plays with at least two tight ends on the field, the lowest number in the NFL.

Henry said he’d like to help the team improve the run game. Halfway through the season, the Chargers are averaging 69.5 rushing yards per game, No. 28 in the NFL. Last year, the Chargers averaged 4.23 yards per rush on plays where they used at least two tight ends, No. 6 in the league.

Also, the Chargers are getting behind schedule early in drives. Over the last three games, the Chargers are averaging 2.55 yards per carry on first-down runs, second-worst in the NFL.

“We’re not running the ball well, and I take pride in that,” Henry said. “It hurts when we’re not running the ball, because we’re a big part of that. We need to run the football, so the big thing is trying to improve our hands and our feet — everything. Just the details of the run game, so we can get on the right guys and start having bigger holes so we can run the ball better.

“When we’re running the ball, it makes our jobs a lot easier, and everybody’s jobs easier. It takes a little pressure off everybody.”

via ESPN

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