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Tight end Hunter Henry expected to make impact early for Chargers

The Chargers believe rookie tight end Hunter Henry will be able to help them right away as a blocker and a receiver. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

SAN DIEGO -- Arriving Thursday night with just a day to get familiar with the offense, San Diego Chargers rookie tight end Hunter Henry looked comfortable on the field for the first time at Chargers Park.

A second-round selection out of Arkansas, Henry showed why the Chargers targeted him, running smooth routes and making several highlight catches over the course of the two-day minicamp.

"We’re going to push certain guys along a little faster than others," Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. "And he’s going to be one of those guys that will get in there early and start playing.

"So we’re not going to hesitate to put him in there. He’s going to make some mistakes, and we’re going to live with that for a while. But as you saw in practice, he’s a very talented player. There’s a reason why we picked him where we did. He’s going to help us win."

The guy who will be throwing the ball to Henry once the season begins, Philip Rivers, watched him put in work on Saturday.

Rivers already had gotten a sneak preview of what Henry could do during the pre-draft process, watching the Arkansas product catch passes from younger brother Stephen Rivers during on-field workouts in nearby Carlsbad, California.

Henry said the two had a chance to talk after those workouts, and he’s eager to get out on the field with the veteran quarterback.

Along with developing chemistry with Rivers, Henry’s focus will be quickly learning offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s playbook.

"He has a good combination of size and speed," Whisenhunt told the team’s website, when asked about Henry. "He catches the ball really well and works hard in the run game.

"He played in a more conventional offense (at Arkansas) opposed to the spread offenses, so we got to see him do some things as a tight end and as a blocker and a receiver that you will see tight ends at this level do.

"The thing I’m excited about with him is he is one of the few I’ve seen come out over the past years who is good (catching and blocking). And he’s further along in both. Now that’s not to say he’s ready to go by any stretch of the imagination, but he is further along than most college tight ends coming out."

Though Henry excelled as a pass catcher during the rookie minicamp, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds he will need to prove his worth as a run blocker at the next level once training camp begin and in exhibition play.

"That’s something I need to work on, just footwork, hand placement and strength -- all of that I can improve on in the next month and a half that we’re here," Henry said. "And just learning from the guys that have done it, too -- the older tight ends that are here -- it’s very important.

"Coach Whisenhunt wants to run the ball, so I’ve got to take that mentality to try and be physical."

Henry, 21, said he watched Antonio Gates as a 10-year-old, trying to pick up moves from the veteran tight end early in his football playing career. Now, Henry will have an up-close tutelage from one of the best route runners in the game.

"I love football," Henry said. "So I love watching guys like Jason Witten and Gates that have done it for so long, how they craft their game and how they take their game to the next level every year. So I’m just eager to learn from those guys."