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Coaches Corner: Henderson "has that edge"

Jacksonville Jaguars secondary coach Tim Walton during pregame warm-ups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFL game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson via AP)
Jacksonville Jaguars secondary coach Tim Walton during pregame warm-ups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFL game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla. (Rick Wilson via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Tim Walton likes the Round 1 selection. That's logical. Walton coaches cornerbacks for the Jaguars, and their first 2020 NFL Draft selection was a cornerback with traits cornerbacks coaches like.

"Good size, good weight, great length," Walton said of CJ Henderson, the cornerback from the University of Florida. "He has the athletic ability and the size to play elite receivers in this league. That's a good base to have, obviously."

There's more to Henderson than just the base.

"He's very competitive, very fluid," Walton said. "He has a lot of great qualities. I like his traits, and I like the way he plays the game."

Which leads to what Walton maybe likes best about the No. 9 overall selection.

"He's quiet and he goes about his business," Walton said, "but on the field, he has that edge to him."

Walton, entering his second season with the Jaguars, spoke to this week about multiple topics – including the cornerbacks in their '20 draft class and the position overall. We'll cover more from that interview later on But Topic No. 1 was Henderson, a player Walton and other team officials believe can become a cornerback capable of defending elite receivers.

Yes, that edge was a reason – and Walton said the edge was evident on many levels when studying Henderson before the draft.

"You have to look at the tape and then find a little about the guy, also," Walton said. "You watch their body language. You watch their demeanor. You watch how they respond after a bad play. You watch how they respond when a team's going after you. There are a lot of things you look into.

"You just look at the overall game – and the mentality. That's a big part of it, too. You have to have the right mentality to play out there at corner and be successful in this league.

"That's the main thing it starts with, is your mindset."

Walton said it doesn't take long to see if a player has that. Henderson, to hear Henderson's coaches at Florida tell it, isn't a trash-talking cornerback in the vein of previous big-time Jaguars players at the spot. Though he said during his post-draft videoconference Thursday he will "engage" with his assignment, it was clear he's hardly "all-talk all the time." But Walton said words aren't always necessary at the position, and that they aren't necessary with Henderson.

"You can tell if he has it – that swagger about him, that inner conference, that willingness to compete," Walton said. "You can obviously see the athletic ability from tape and workouts. You can look at the combine workout and tell if he's fluid and tell about his athletic ability and his jumping ability.

"When you add the size with that, and the mindset, you can have a good up-and-coming young player."

Walton, a veteran of 10 years coaching NFL secondaries, said part of the challenge with young, talented players is understanding time is needed to develop – and that that's even true with Top 10 selections. Yes, Henderson has traits to be a lockdown corner – at some point.

"That part takes time," Walton said. "I always tell guys, 'I don't like to put any additional pressure on them.' There's going to be enough that comes with that just being the ninth pick. I just tell them, 'go out and play, be coachable, be sound, compete and let the chips fall where they may. Don't think about all that other stuff, because there's going be some growth process with that.'

"At the end of the day, you only get experience by experience."

Walton said Henderson will gain experience – and if that won't always be easy, another of his traits will help the process. When speaking about Henderson to Jacksonville media Thursday night, Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen lauded the player's attention to detail and talked about how Henderson would routinely remain after practicing working on fundamentals and footwork.

Mullen said he called that professionalism – and Walton said that trait that Mullen saw in college will be critical as he transitions to the NFL.

"Experience takes a little time, but if he's a student of the game and you put the work in and you're detailed with the work, it helps you get through those learning moments the best way you can," Walton said. "Then you can apply those situations, learn them as you go, then the team around you helps you have the confidence to be a good player, because it's a team sport at the end of the day.

"He's a student of the game. He's smart. He studies. He prepares. All of those things, all of those intangibles you need to work yourself into a good player in the league – you have to have fundamental things in you."

Henderson, as Walton sees it, has a lot of those things. And that makes the first-round selection easy to like.

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