The Case for Malik Henry

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Malik Henry is Jimbo Fisher’s guy.

Two years ago, Henry participated in Fisher’s spring camp session alongside eventual five-star recruit Jacob Eason. At the time, Eason was the big name in recruiting circles and some even predicted that the Washington native would land at Florida State. But after the camp was over, Fisher made it clear who his man was.

Fisher picked Henry over every other quarterback in the 2016 class.

As expected, Henry committed to Florida State live on ESPN and stuck with his commitment despite a hectic senior year of high school. The California kid enrolled early at Florida State and has spent the last couple of months impressing both coaches and fans alike with his prowess at the quarterback position.

Normally, Jimbo Fisher has a tendency to redshirt his true freshman quarterbacks. In fact, Fisher has never played a true freshman quarterback during his tenure at Florida State. Even last year, when J.J. Cosentino was struggling in the Peach Bowl, Fisher made it known that he would have put in walk-on Lucas Clark rather than burn true freshman Deondre Francois’ redshirt.

The question Fisher will have to answer this offseason is if he wants to play Henry or redshirt him. History has proven that redshirting quarterbacks often leads to success later on in their careers, and Fisher has certainly lived by this philosophy.

Still, Henry might be too talented to have sitting on the sidelines. As he proved in the spring game, he’s not a guy you expect to be on campus for four or five years.

So, will he redshirt or will Henry be the first true freshman quarterback to start at Florida State under Jimbo Fisher?

From his first snap in the spring game, it was clear that Henry was something special.

The coaching staff for the Garnet team did a great job of getting Henry into a rhythm early, starting him off with simple dump off passes to tight end Mavin Saunders before moving him on to more difficult throws. While he was labeled as a “pro-style” quarterback coming out of high school, Henry is more than capable of executing naked bootleg passes and using his legs to scramble. Although he didn’t pick up any yards on the ground during the spring game, he is equally as capable as Deondre Francois on designed quarterback runs and scrambling out of the pocket.

When he takes the snap, the game seems to move in slow motion for Henry. He has a cool, calm presence around him during drop backs. In fact, he didn’t even seem fazed that Florida State’s best pass rusher, DeMarcus Walker, was bearing down on him on multiple occasions.

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The best example of this is during his first touchdown pass. Henry rolls out of the pocket, looking for a receiver in the end zone but no one is open. Rather than throw the ball out of bounds or tuck it and run himself, he buys time and throws a dart to walk-on Jared Jackson for the touchdown. This play was very reminiscent of Sean Maguire’s touchdown pass versus Florida and highlights Henry’s ability as a playmaker rather than distributor.

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Henry might not have the arm strength that Francois or Maguire have, but his ability to perfectly place the ball with the right amount of touch is second to none out of the quarterbacks on the roster. On his touchdown pass to Jared Jackson, he didn’t necessarily rifle the ball in, but rather he placed it where only his receiver could make a play on it. Keep in mind, this throw was also made throwing across his body and as he is on the move. Not many quarterbacks can make that throw.

There have been whispers emerging from spring practice that Henry is reminiscent of another former Florida State player in terms of his playmaking ability and cerebral instincts at the quarterback position.

Care to take a guess at who that player is?

Perhaps there’s a reason that Florida State quarterbacks always redshirt in their first year on campus.

After all, it’s not a secret that Jimbo Fisher runs a very complex offensive system. In a 2013 interview after being drafted in the first round, EJ Manuel stated that it was easier for him to learn the Buffalo Bills offense than the one at Florida State.

“The learning curve for me is a lot shorter simply because what I had at Florida State. [The Seminole’s offense is] more complex and a bit harder to catch on and learn. This offense is very simple.”

So with only a couple of months on campus, how well will Malik Henry know the playbook?

Jimbo Fisher trusts his quarterbacks to set protections, recognize blitzes and change plays at the line of scrimmage. They need to know when to check in to a run play, who their primary targets is and where receivers are at all times. From day one, it was clear that Jimbo trusted Jameis Winston with all of this knowledge, but how much of Winston’s success was based upon him redshirting in 2012? If Henry is to break the streak of quarterbacks redshirting under Jimbo Fisher, he will have to spend a lot of time in the film room this summer because he is clearly behind the other three options in terms of knowledge of the playbook.

Henry also might not be physically ready for college football. Per the official Florida State roster, Henry is 6-3, 185 lbs. Watching him at the spring game, he might be 185 soaking wet. Henry clearly needs to add more muscle mass, but he still only a freshman and has time to grow into his body. With a strength and conditioning coach like Vic Viloria, there is no doubt that Henry will eventually bulk up to the 210-215 range.

Still, the concern arises about Henry’s ability to handle the physicality of the college game. Florida State’s offensive line should be much improved last year, but is Henry a player that can handle a couple of sacks a game plus more hits on scrambles and designed runs?

It is also fair to talk about maturity concerns with Henry. His senior year of high school was a tumultuous one and one that made national headlines in the recruiting industry. After two years at Westlake High School in California, Henry transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fl. to learn under the tutelage of former Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke. But soon after Weinke left IMG Academy to take a position with the St. Louis Rams, IMG Academy announced in a press release that Henry would not be returning to the school for the remainder of his senior year.

Several factors were likely in play here. For one, Henry went to IMG Academy wanting to run the pro-style offense that Weinke is known for. Once he left, the new coaching staff adopted a spread system, which was counterproductive to Henry’s move across the country. Other new outlets have also claimed that attitude was an issue for Henry as well. After leaving IMG, Henry moved back to California and finished his senior year at Long Beach Poly in Los Angeles.

Is Henry a player that you can trust to be a leader in the locker room?

He will have an uphill battle to face in that aspect. Sean Maguire has been very vocal about his desire to lead this Florida State team in 2016 and several players voiced their support for Maguire after last season. Deondre Francois took over first team reps in spring practice and, from all early reports, has been a leader in the locker room as well.

It won’t be easy for Henry to win over the locker room, but his play in the spring game should definitely help his case.

Malik Henry is the highest rated quarterback that Jimbo Fisher has signed since Jameis Winston.

He brings a cool, cocky air to the game that Florida State hasn’t seen since Winston departed for the NFL. He makes everyone around him better, making plays with his arm that not many quarterbacks can make. His ability to perfectly place the ball with his touch is second to none on the roster.

He is Jimbo’s guy, hand picked to be Florida State’s quarterback of the future.

But is the future now? Or is the future still a year or two away?

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