Hunter Henry picking up where he left off early in Patriots camp

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Curran: Henry picking up where he left off with Pats originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO – Two days of Patriots training camp in the books. Two days of Hunter Henry being a staple of the offense.

On Thursday, Henry made a leaping, twisting catch over third-year safety Kyle Dugger during the first 7-on-7 session. Later in a “Gotta Have It” rep with pushups riding on the outcome, Henry snuck into the left flat and caught a little red-zone flip from Mac Jones scoring a touchdown and causing a commotion among a Patriots defense that dominated the previous 10 plays.

After both those catches, Henry led the entire offense in an over-the-top celebration that was simultaneously ridiculous and easy to appreciate.

Patriots Talk: Patriots D rises up on Day 2 of camp | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

For a franchise that sometimes considered an arched eyebrow to be an excessive celebration, seeing unbridled giddiness over good plays in July is unusual.

Remember this from 2017? And that was Gronk getting beaten down (and possibly getting fined) for celebrating a REGULAR SEASON touchdown. Five years forward and Henry is carrying out a prolonged posedown then a windmill spike after 7-on-7.

Kids today.

Whether you see it as excessive or overdue, one of the universal takeaways from the first couple days of camp is that the fellas are having a good time. The leash is still short when players are at the podium but judging by Henry and DeVante Parker, one of Henry’s prime celebratory partners, it’s laissez-faire when it comes to letting loose.

And Henry’s going to get his chances to revel.

Coming off a 50-catch season in which he set a career-high with nine touchdown catches, Henry’s got the attention of his teammates.

I asked safety Adrian Phillips on Thursday what makes Henry such a tough cover for a defender.

“Everything,” said Phillips. “Literally everything. He’s a balanced tight end with like some of the best hands in the NFL. You got a guy who can make every route look the same, he can switch it up, he can do whatever you want and that’s what makes it a tough cover.”

I suggested to Phillips that Henry is such a smooth athlete his explosion gets overlooked. Phillips disagreed, indicating that “smooth” undersold the physicality of Henry.

“It’s a battle every time we’re out there because you know when you’re lined up against him you know what he’s gonna bring,” said Phillips. “Like I said he’s a beast. That’s why I call him Beast. That’s his nickname.”

His quarterback would likely agree. Last year, Jones had a quarterback rating of 119.6 throwing to Henry. Henry didn’t have a single drop. Every single reception Henry had in the red zone resulted in a touchdown (although he and Jones connected on just 9 of the 18 throws he saw).

Henry and Jones are cut from the same “take it seriously but have a good time doing it” cloth.

Asked Wednesday about Mac’s manner, Henry said, “He brings a lot of positive energy. Good vibes. We gotta celebrate. If it’s a big play, especially in the red zone (we should). Mac brings a lot of energy and it’s a lot of fun.”

While Henry’s emergence as an offensive workhorse is already underway, he’s not supposed to ride alone. The Patriots signed Henry and Jonnu Smith to similar fat contracts in the first 48 hours of free agency last year (Henry got three years, $37M with $25M guaranteed; Smith got four years, $50M and 31.25M guaranteed).

The Patriots' return on investment from Smith was wanting last year. But Henry’s confident he and Smith will get their stride this season.

“Love Jonnu,” said Henry. “Dude works extremely hard. He’s fun to be around in the building. We’ve gotten to know him and his wife too so there’s an off-the-field connection too and we’re building that. It was a special thing to come in together like that. We were kinda going through the learning curve, adjusting to things together, bouncing things off each other so it's been a lot of fun being able to do it together.

“We’re excited to continue improving,” Henry added. “There’s a lot to improve on. There’s a lot to look back on and say, ‘We should do that again,’ or ‘We could do this better,’ We’re always trying to improve and be some of the top guys and lead this team and be the guys on the offense that they can look at and depend on and rely on. That’s what we’re trying to come out here and do.”

With Henry’s red zone and security-blanket skills and Smith’s versatility, there’s a lot that offensive coordinator X can do to feature his tight ends.

So how does Henry see his role being tweaked?

“I guess we’ll see,” he said slyly.