Willie Henry’s Improved Pass Rush Could Lead to Breakout Season

People around the Ravens’ Under Armour Performance Center keep stopping defensive tackle Willie Henry and asking if he lost some weight.

Many of us wish that happened to us at work, am I right?

Well, Henry isn’t in the business of correcting people and he has legitimately dropped about 5 percent in body fat, so he is a bit trimmer. But not the 15 pounds lighter than some people think.

“I think my haircut fooled a lot of people,” said Henry, who lost his dreadlocks this offseason. “Maybe it just looked like I dropped a lot of weight, because I definitely don’t feel like I dropped that much weight.”

Whatever the reason, Henry is flattered by the praise. The third-year defensive tackle has been getting a fair amount of it after a sophomore season in which he started to flash his potential.

Henry didn’t see any game action as a fourth-round pick out of Michigan in 2016. He was young and raw, and the Ravens gave him a development year.

Last season, Henry played in 14 games and made three starts when the Ravens were shuffling players looking for a replacement for Brent Urban (Lisfranc). Henry did well with the opportunity, notching 33 tackles, 3.5 sacks and five pass deflections.

After the Ravens traded Timmy Jernigan to the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason, Henry was Baltimore’s best interior pass rusher. Michael Pierce had one sack and Carl Davis shared one. Those were the only sacks from the Ravens’ down linemen.

While Baltimore finished around the middle of the pack in sacks last year thanks to good outside pressure from Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon and its secondary, the Ravens need more pressure up the gut, and Henry is still their top option.

That’s why Suggs, in a conference call with season-ticket holders earlier this offseason, named the 24-year-old Henry as his young breakout candidate.

“It means a lot from a guy like that who has been in this system for 16 years and seen so many great interior pass rushers and three-techniques,” Henry said. “For him to mention my name, it’s an honor. But I can’t go out there and prove him wrong.”

Henry has studied tape of some of the league’s top pass-rushing defensive linemen this offseason. Last year, Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen hooked him up with highlights from Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. This offseason, Henry watched players such as the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Gerald McCoy and Cincinnati Bengals’ Geno Atkins.

“I’m just trying to take a little bit of everybody’s game and make it my own,” Henry said. “It’s not their move. It’s your move. You have to make it work for you.”

The other reason why Henry feels like he could be on the verge of a big season is he’s playing with a lot more confidence, instilled, he said, from getting reps in the defense and his coaches.

“We just continue to take a step every day with him, and I think you’re going to see big things from Willie,” Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said.

“I think it’s physically. I think he’s gotten into shape, and you can really see, like I said the last time, how he’s changed his body. His body fat is down. Now, he’s starting to get some of that ‘old-man dad’ strength and quickness.”

Whether it’s being trimmer, stronger, more experienced or just more confident, Henry will try to use it all this season to be a force in Baltimore’s trenches.

“I’m just trying to become an overall better pass rusher inside,” Henry said. “I definitely want to have more sacks than I did last year.”

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