Practicing Patience Changing Sports Suits QB Henson By Ken Sins Time had run out on Drew Henson's baseball career. Henson concluded after six knock-around minor league seasons that there was no future for him in the sport without a clock. Now he returns to football, and time is no longer quite as pressing an issue. He's not expected to make an immediate impact on the Cowboys. The coaches preach patience for the 24-year-old Henson, who tastes his first live action in three years this summer. "There's excitement, but I also try not to expect too much from myself early, to take things step by step," says Henson. "Keeping that in mind, hopefully things will work out." Henson opens the summer trailing Quincy Carter and Vinny Testaverde on the Cowboys' quarterback depth chart, a group that was pared to four with the release of former starter Chad Hutchinson. Tony Romo, a rookie last season, also would seem to have an edge over Henson simply because he has a year's experience in the Cowboys' system. It is Henson, however, who is the most intriguing quarterback in Cowboys camp. During his abbreviated college career at Michigan (27 games, eight starts), he showed the size (6-4, 230 pounds), leadership skills, arm and ability to elude a pass rush that pro scouts prize. A bonus in the eyes of Cowboys' coach Bill Parcells is the fact that Henson is the son of a coach. Dan Henson made several national coaching stops before settling in Brighton, Mich. when he became offensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan University. Had Henson remained with the Michigan football team rather than signing a baseball contract in 2001 to become the New York Yankees' third baseman of the future, he was projected by some talent evaluators as having the potential to be the top pick in the 2001 NFL draft. "I thought he had ability," says Parcells. "He is mobile. He has a pretty good arm. I thought he was a pretty good college player when he was playing. I know (Michigan) Coach (Lloyd) Carr very well. He endorsed him very highly. That means a lot to me." Henson's futility in the Yankees' organization (compiling a .248 average with 67 homers and 274 RBIs over his six-year minor league career) caused him to re-think his athletic future. His inability to hit the breaking ball, resulted in 556 strikeouts in 501 minor league games. He made no secret of his interest in switching sports. His potential and his availability prompted the Cowboys to act in mid-March when they sent a 2005 third-round pick to the Houston Texans, who held Henson's NFL rights. Henson played only eight games for the Yankees in 2002 and 2003 after signing a six-year, $17 million deal with baseball's most glamorous franchise in 2001. Football always was in the back of his mind, however, and nobody with the Yankees was shocked when he walked away from the rest of a contract worth almost $12 million. "He always talked about what he might do," says Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "He always had options." Yankees manager Joe Torre says Henson was harder on himself than any manager could have been. "He put a great deal of pressure on himself because he expected more out of himself than maybe we even did," says Torre. "I think that slowed his progress....it's a tough game to play. It's humbling. I'm glad he had someplace to go." Baseball is far more of an individual sport than football, and it was that team mentality that baseball lacked for Henson. "It feels good, getting back to the things I've missed," says Henson. "Getting out on the field, being a leader, interacting with the guys. When I was away from it, there were certain things I missed. Getting back out there, being in a leadership position, those are things I've come to appreciate." After making the decision to abandon baseball, Henson got back into a football mode during the winter, working in Florida with former NFL assistant Larry Kennan. In February, the Texans set up a workout for Henson in front of scouts for 20 teams, including a trio from the Cowboys. In March, Henson had a private workout for the Cowboys, with Parcells, owner-general manager Jerry Jones and the entire coaching staff in attendance. The Cowboys forged into the lead in the pursuit of Henson. The Cowboys first had to agree to trade compensation for the Texans, and they also had to come to contract terms with Henson. The Cowboys agreed to give Henson an incentive-laden eight-year contract that guarantees him $3.5 million. Henson spent the spring getting a crash course in the Cowboys' offense and absorbing the playbook. "Just getting back to being the field general, keeping everyone on the same page and managing things, that's a part I missed," says Henson. "All the other expectations I'll block out and just focus on the things you can control. "For me it's just nice to get back and put a uniform on, get in the huddle, call plays and get back to the things I feel comfortable with. I've been training, throwing, getting my body in shape. It's getting used to being back on the field." Cowboys quarterback coach Sean Payton has worked closely with Henson, and Payton saw progress heading into camp. "You're trying to make up (the time Henson's missed) as quick as possible," says Payton. "I think probably with each individual, that transition would vary. Hopefully the transition for Drew will be smoother and shorter than it might be for others." One surprising aspect of football that Henson especially missed? "Getting hit, as crazy as it sounds," he says with a smile. "So I'm looking forward to that. It's a part of playing football that guys like. It makes you feel alive and it's a great way to compete. I don't want to take many, but a couple will be great." He knows that a series of adjustments awaits. "This is a level I've never played before and the defensive backs are so much better so your reaction time is a lot less," says Henson. "Those are the first adjustments you have to make. But it's still football, a game I've played since I was young." Parcells expects many things from his quarterback. First and foremost, it is a position of leadership. In Parcells' words, he's looking for a "battlefield commander." "He's said that to me more than once," says Henson. "There's more to playing quarterback than dropping and delivering. You're managing 10 other guys in the huddle with you, you're taking what the coaching staff wants to do and you're trying to apply it on the field. There are little things a quarterback does that probably aren't noticed by the general public, but those are the things that win games and win championships." Can Henson play this season? "I wouldn't dismiss that," says Parcells, who continues to repeat that whoever performs the best will play no matter what the position. "My best guess is he's probably going to need a little while. It's like most everybody else. I just think he's getting back in tune...give him enough opportunity to get back in tune with it and see what he can do." The Cowboys have been receptive to playing young quarterbacks, having thrown Carter and Hutchinson into the fire in recent seasons, and that also made Dallas an attractive destination for Henson. Parcells' presence was perhaps the biggest selling point. Henson is wearing number 11, which also happens to be the jersey worn by Phil Simms, who led Parcells' New York Giants to the franchise's first Super Bowl victory following the 1986 season. "Coach Parcells is the best coach in the league, probably the best coach I'll ever play for," says Henson. "He hasn't tried to give me too much too early, to take it step by step, to get into the system and understand things. "He's definitely hands-on. From what I understand he's probably one of the only head coaches who's involved with the offense, defense and special teams. I like that. He wants to see what I'm made of...The opportunity to come here, the organization with its past championships and the tradition they have here, this is a great place for me to be."