Q&A about Donnie Henderson

Since Mike Pettine is gone, the Bills obviously need to find a replacement. Some names that have been floating around the Internet (They are always right) are Donnie Henderson, Jim Schwartz, Greg Schiano, and Wade Phillips. So, I'm going to start busting out Q&As with bloggers who have covered these gents to see how their defenses played out. First up is John Butchko from the SB Nations's Jets site Gang Green Nation to dish the dirt on Donnie Edwards time in NY as the DC from 2004-2005.
1) Tell me about Donnie Henderson's time in NY?

The story starts when Herman Edwards was hired as head coach in 2001. There were two factions in the organization. Some wanted to hire Edwards. Others wanted to hire Ted Cottrell. As a compromise, the Jets hired Edwards as head coach and Cottrell as defensive coordinator. The shotgun wedding did not work as the two had very different defensive philosophies and never meshed.

Edwards wanted an attacking defense instead of Cottrell's read and react. Eventually he settled on Henderson, who was the Ravens secondary coach at the time. Henderson lasted two years. The defense played its best in the second half of 2004, and the Jets had one of the best defensive lines in the league. After the 2005 season, Edwards moved to Kansas City. Eric Mangini came in and wanted to implement his own defense so Henderson was let go.

2) What were his strengths and weaknesses or low lights and highlights?
I'm not sure whether it's a strength or a weakness, but he's a contrast to Pettine. Pettine is very stoic. Donnie is more of a rah-rah in your face guy. His teams were always aggressive and tended to register a lot of takeaways. He also was very good at making in game adjustments. The Jets had seven second half shutouts in 2004.

3) Obviously, you are familiar with Mike Pettine's defense. Some think that it would behoove the Bills to go with Henderson because he was on our staff this past season and it would help in continuity. How similar or different was Henderson's defense in NY and Pettine/Ryan's defense in NY?
Well it was almost a decade ago so you'll have to forgive me if my memory is a tad faulty. From what I remember, his defense was a little less diverse than Pettine's. In New York Pettine constantly adapted things. The Jets showed a lot of different fronts. Depending on the opponent and the players on the defense, they had long stretches where they went blitz crazy and others when they barely blitzed. Donnie's defenses tended to be mainly attacking 4-3 units.
Let me add a caveat. Since he left the Jets, he has worked in many different schemes, including Pettine's so it's entirely possible he will do things a bit differently. The NFL has also changed quite a bit so I'm not sure I'd expect him to do things the exact same way.

4) Judging by the stats, your defense in 2004 did quite well, but went in a nosedive in 2005, why was that?
Honestly, I never really put a ton of blame on him for that. He lost his nose tackle, Jason Ferguson, in free agency, and the Jets never adequately replaced him. The other starting defensive tackle, Dewayne Robertson, started to be affected by a chronic knee condition that eventually ended his career before his 30th birthday.
Beyond that, I'm not sure I've ever seen a team decimated by injuries like the Jets were that year. I think by Week 17 something like 11 of the 22 starters were on IR. There were some losses on the defense, but the injuries on offense also hurt. They lost their top two quarterbacks for the season by Week 4, and Curtis Martin was playing through what eventually was a career-ending injury. This left an offense that put its defense unrested and in frequently terrible field position. Pretty much everything went wrong for the Jets that year. I'm not sure there are many coaches who could have weathered those circumstances.

5) Do you think Henderson would do a good job as DC for the Bills based on what you saw in NYC?

I always liked him a lot when he was with the Jets. I was disappointed when they let him go, and I'm surprised he hasn't had the chance to be a coordinator in the NFL since 2006. It's been a long time since he was with the Jets, but my memories of him are positive.

6) Were there any players who played for the Jets during that time that you thought thrived under him?

Jonathan Vilma really stood out. He stepped right in as a rookie and was an all around force.


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