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One of NU's Toughest-Ever Impresses Chiefs
Nebraska Coach Barney Cotton sees a potentially long career in the NFL for Ricky Henry.
Photo Courtesy Scott Bruhn/NU Media Relations
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
08/06/2014
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Randy York's N-Sider

Ricky Henry is the classic definition of an under-the-radar player.  But Barney Cotton, Nebraska’s associate head coach and running game coordinator, was not surprised Tuesday to learn that the former Husker lineman – who has spent the past year on the disabled list – has worked his way into the first-team mix at right and left offensive guard with the Kansas City Chiefs.  “Ricky is probably the toughest guy I have ever coached,” said Cotton, who coaches Nebraska’s tight ends and assists John Garrison in mentoring the Huskers’ offensive line.

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Cotton Explains How Tough Ricky Henry Really Was

How tough was Ricky Henry?  “He played his whole last year here with a shoulder that was completely loose and needed 13 staples to put it back in,” Cotton said.  “We tried to take Ricky out, but he would want to beat you up on the sideline and tell you he wasn’t coming out no matter what.  He really is one of the toughest guys you will ever see.”  Henry, 27, is 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds.  An un-drafted free agent in 2011, he spent time with the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints before the Chiefs claimed him off waivers last August.  Unfortunately, a ruptured bicep put Henry on the sidelines for the past year.

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Henry, Suh Waged Many Memorable ‘Wars’

Because Cotton played four seasons in the NFL, he has a good idea of what it takes to play at that level.  “I’ve always thought Ricky would succeed in the pros,” Cotton said.  “He’s so raw, and he’s just going to get better and better.  The longer he can stay in the league, the better he’s going to get.”

On the second day of Nebraska’s own fall camp, Cotton couldn’t help but smile when he was asked what made Ricky Henry so tough inside and out.  “Whenever it went live between Ricky Henry and Ndamukong Suh, it was a war,” Cotton recalled.  “They really went hard when they went against each other.  Ndamukong’s a great player, but Ricky had his share of victories against Suh and that really helped Ricky become a better player.  There’s no doubt that Ricky’s toughness is what got him through that daily situation.”

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Spencer Long Making Strides in Washington

There was more good news about another former Husker offensive lineman Tuesday.  ESPN.com published a Redskins Rookie Report on Spencer Long, Nebraska’s All-Big Ten and   Academic All-American offensive guard.  Washington’s third-round draft selection has reinforced his reputation as a technician and has been projected to “make the roster as a backup guard” and “should challenge for a starting job at some point – either later this season or next summer,” John Keim wrote for ESPN.com. 

“I was just so happy that Spencer got drafted as high as he did because that’s where he was supposed to be drafted before he got hurt last year,” Cotton pointed out while acknowledging Long’s Pro Day performance that “showed everyone he was well…we were thinking he had a chance to be a late second-round or early third-round guy, and that’s where he deservedly went.”

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Long: A Combination of Intellect and Power

Asked about the differences between Henry and Long, Cotton obliged.  “Spencer was a real tough football player, but he also really schooled himself into becoming a great technician as well, and a very smart football player.  He’s already been accepted to med school and that will be put on hold.  He’s a unique combination of an intellectual guy that was a great technician but also had an awful lot of toughness himself.”

When Cotton thinks about Henry’s and Long’s career getting on a twin launching pad, he can’t help but connect both to former Husker Matt Slauson, who’s beginning his second season with the Chicago Bears after playing his first 51 NFL games in a New York Jets uniform.

Cotton insists that Slauson, Henry and Long “just have that body type” that will help them extend their professional careers.  “I can see those guys playing 10 years in the NFL,” Cotton said.  “The big thing is you have to stay healthy. When you’re 6-foot-4 and have that really thick body with big bones, it gives all of them that chance to be long-term guys, especially playing inside. I hope it works out for all of them.”

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