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Jerome Henderson looks to lead young secondary to 'higher level'


There is always uncertainty for position coaches when a new coordinator comes into the building.

What's going to happen? What's the relationship history? What system will be installed?

Now having gone through it twice with the Giants, Jerome Henderson has been the answer in the backfield. Incoming coordinator Shane Bowen retained the respected defensive backs coach, who also added passing game coordinator to his title over the offseason.

"You always wonder," Henderson said in a recent episode of “On the Drive with Shaun O’Hara” on "Shane has been awesome. He's been a great leader so far. He's done a good job getting our staff together and giving us his vision of our defense. He's a guy who has listened to our input and asked for input and said, 'This is going to be our defense and we're going to build it the right way.' It's been a lot of fun so far."

What will that defense look like from the secondary?

"There are not a lot of new things in football," admitted Henderson, who played eight seasons in the NFL in the 1990s and suited up for two Super Bowls (XXVIII with the Bills and XXXI as a member of the Patriots). "It's just we call them different things. It's similar concepts, different language, little tweaks. It's a little bit of, from the high-level perspective, just a different philosophy of how we'll play defense. But at the end of the day, we'll play similar coverages, we'll have similar fronts, we'll just hopefully play them at a higher level obviously this year and make the Giants fans proud."

Henderson landed his first NFL job in 2006 as the Jets' director of player development, a fitting title for what was to come. A year later, he added assistant defensive backs coach to his duties and the team selected a cornerback out of Pittsburgh with the 14th pick in the draft. His name was Darrelle Revis.

The following season, Henderson shed the "assistant" title and Revis made his first of seven Pro Bowls on the road to Canton. So, Henderson knows what a high-caliber cornerback looks like from the ground-up.

"Obviously the movement skills are key for us, the ability to change directions and be explosive," Henderson said. "I think one of the things that's overlooked, though, when you talk about Revis – he had this in spades – it's that demeanor that 'I want to dominate and control this guy across from me.' When I think about the really good ones, they wanted those big moments, and they wanted to be on that island. They wanted to know that I'm guarding the guy, and they wanted the ball to be thrown at that guy. The good ones did it at a high level and won a lot more of those battles than they lost."

For anyone who followed the Giants last season, they will know that is the calling card of cornerback Deonte Banks. In addition to his rare physical attributes, the Maryland product made a name for himself by never backing down from a challenge in college, notably going toe-to-toe with Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr.

The NFL lights did not appear too bright, either. Under Henderson's tutelage, the 24th overall selection started 15 games as a rookie and intercepted two passes among 11 breakups.

"He really likes the challenge of, OK, I get the best guy on the games we did match and travel him," Henderson said. "He likes that challenge. He's got to still grow into studying and preparing and being ready to go and playing at a high level and understanding how the game changes and what's happening within the game. But he absolutely likes that challenge, and he'll get some more of it."

Henderson helped the Giants make history last year. It was the first time in the Super Bowl era the team started two rookie corners in the season opener. The other was Tre Hawkins III, a sixth-round pick from Old Dominion who emerged in training camp.

"When you have young guys, it makes you make sure you give them just enough," Henderson said. "You have to find that right balance of what's that right amount of information for them because you don't want to give them so much information that you slow them down and you have them thinking. But you need to give them enough information so they can go function. That was the big thing with them just always trying to find that fine line."

Another player benefitting from Henderson's guidance is Cor'Dale Flott, who looks to take another step in his third season. Flott did just that as a sophomore, setting new career-highs in games played (14), starts (seven), and passes defensed (five). The former third-round draft choice also notched his first career interception as he carved out a role as an inside cornerback, which continues to grow in importance.

"The nickel really is a unique position," Henderson said. "It used to be that anybody could move inside and play it. But in today's football, with all the moving parts and pieces, it's becoming harder and harder to get guys to play inside and outside. I thought Flott did a great job last year growing as a nickel and learning some of the things that he's got to study each week. He did a great job each week of coming in and studying all the stacks and bunches on third down and what they look like and how they are going to try and pick and rub him. He was ready to handle what was coming week to week. He did a great job of it."

While we wait to see if he gets any new pupils in the upcoming draft, Henderson still hasn't lost his player perspective

"When the game is on the line, I tell them I've just got a really good seat," Henderson said. "I'm not going to be out there and able to help a whole lot, so I try to, during the week, get them as prepared as they can be and in the right mental space to go function at a high level. I approach everything that way of what they need and what's the right thing to give them, what's the right thing to push them with, and I use that player perspective all the time."

NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah released his updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.


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