But that plan was put into motion the moment they drafted Hunter Henry, and he knows that puts more of a burden of expectation on him moving forward.
“When I came in, it can be an intimidating thing when you come into that situation — a Hall of Famer, first ballot, and one of the greatest tight ends of all time [playing with you]. So, it can be intimidating, but he took me under his wing and taught me everything he could these past two years,” Henry said, via Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s been incredible. He’s still a great friend of mine. I talk to him. I was with him a couple of weekends ago. It’s been really cool to be able to play with him these past two years.
“But definitely, I’m ready to step up. … I’m ready to go.”
The 2016 second-rounder came at a time when Gates’ production began to wane, and his own has grown slowly. That was complicated by the lacerated kidney that cost him the last three games of the season, but he still caught 45 passes for 579 yards last year.
“That kind of injury is really tough. It’s a freak injury. I felt like I took care of myself really well last year, and to have something like that happen, where I have to miss games for something I can’t control, it’s really hard to take,” Henry said. “It’s something where I can’t push my rehab to try and get back on the field and something I can’t play through because I kind of look at myself like, if it’s an injury, I feel like I can play through it. I just kind of have that tough factor about me. But with something internal, it’s hard. You can’t play around with that.”
He’s healthy and running again now, and doing so with the knowledge that his mentor is gone, and he has to be the man now.