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Eric Henderson discusses recruiting, NIL and his ability to develop

Erik-McKinneyby:Erik McKinney07/08/24


USC Trojans defensive line coach Eric Henderson will get as much attention as any assistant coach in the nation this year if he can turn his position group from a 2023 liability into a 2024 strength. USC fans likely won’t believe in any defensive turnaround until it begins to materialize on the field. But late last week, Henderson received yet another big heaping of praise from a former NFL standout.

Future NFL Hall of Famer Aaron Donald has already publicly stated how much Henderson helped him as a player. This time, 11-year NFL vet Michael Brockers was the one giving credit to Henderson.

Brockers had Henderson as a guest on his The BrockCast podcast as those two, plus co-host Petty Pat, spoke in the John McKay Center about Henderson’s path to coaching, his family life and his passion for coaching and developing talent.

Henderson served as the defensive line coach of the Los Angeles Rams from 2019-2023, while Brockers played for the Rams from 2012-2020. When Henderson showed up, Brockers was already an established veteran. He said the way Henderson approached the situation impressed him. Brockers said he was looking to take advantage of having a young coach who was taking over a position room for the first time in his career.

“I’m gonna try to see what I can get away with,” Brocker said of his attitude at the time. “And this [MF] was like, ‘Nah, bro. We working. When we’re on this field, we’re working….'”

Brockers said he bristled at first, but it didn’t take long to see what he had in his new coach.

“Every day, every week, we’re doing the same thing, I’m like, okay,” Brocker said. “Then you start to see that we set the tone for practice.”

Brockers said the work Henderson demanded of his group was appreciated by the vets and young players alike and the fact that Henderson could almost immediately reach players like himself and Aaron Donald was impressive.

“It’s just a respect,” Henderson said. “I understood what that was and I embrace that. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I got that work.’ So now let’s go to work.”

Recruiting was one thing Henderson has embraced as a college coach that he didn’t have to do in the NFL. He was asked on the podcast about what he looks for in high school and transfer portal recruits.

“A dog, straight up,” Henderson said. “Sometimes guys don’t always have the elite measurables or the tallest guy, the biggest guy, the strongest guy. But when you’ve got something in your chest that’s pumping louder than everybody else, I’m rocking with that. Because I trust my ability as a coach to get you better. There’s no one better in the game that has been there, to help you reach that level of competitiveness when you talk about defensive line play, than I feel like I am. I know that I can help everybody get better. That’s just the way I feel…So if you have those things that you can’t coach, and then you’re able to apply the above-the-neck approach to the game — just being a student of the game, you want to be coachable, you understand the game, your smarts, all of that stuff, man, I can help you with the rest of it.”

But right now, USC is not winning enough recruiting battles for their top targets at almost every position in the 2025 recruiting class. NIL isn’t the only thing keeping the Trojans from pulling those players in, but it’s absolutely playing a role in some of the battles. Henderson has to be frustrated with the decommitments of two five-star talents in Justus Terry and Isaiah Gibson as well as missing out on a few other top targets. He made something of a pitch to establish USC’s position moving forward.

“When you talk about truly being developed. If you are a young man and you are football-head like I think or know you are, especially if we’re talking defensive line, and you’re doing your research,” Henderson said. “First of all, if a school like ‘SC is recruiting you, we have all the resources in the world. That’s first and foremost. Thank God that we’re fortunate to have all of the resources in the world. So you’re able to still have what you’re allotted to be able to have from an NIL standpoint. Not only do you have that, but then you have coaches that are able to truly develop you and propel you for the next level and get you there better than anybody else in the world. So because there may be a school that has some resources that are able to or trying to put a different type of bag in front of you…some cats are taking that over true development. That tells me a lot about a lot of guys. Like, you’re not a true football-head.”

Henderson has always maintained he’s a huge fan of NIL and players receiving money at this point in their careers. His point focused on the players who choose slight increases in NIL money over what he sees as sizeable increases in potential player development. Henderson did potentially get a big boost from Brockers in that push.

“If you’re a player, a D-lineman and you’re watching this and you want to be developed and to have all the techniques, man, come to USC,” Brockers (a first-round pick from LSU) said. “Because Henny is where it’s at when you want to get better, when you want to find out where you are and want to get better. He made me better and I thought I was good. But when you’ve got somebody telling you your hand placement could be here, it could be there, and you’re coachable, and you see it make your game better…man, there ain’t no better feeling.”

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