By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY
DENVER — Within moments of walking into Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan's den during a March free-agent visit, Travis Henry felt right at home.
Everything the seventh-year pro sought was showcased inside Shanahan's trophy room.
There were the replicas of three Lombardi trophies and accompanying rings, two of which Shanahan won as head coach of the Denver Broncos and the other as San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator.
"Chills just went all through my body," Henry says. "If they would have had the contract papers, I would have signed right there. Denver is all about winning."
Shanahan signed his centerpiece free agent to a five-year, $22.5-million deal, including $12 million guaranteed. With his blend of power, speed and low center of gravity, the 5-9, 220 Henry is potentially the prototype Broncos back. He is arguably the best fit for Shanahan's zone-blocked run scheme since the 2004 trade of Clinton Portis, who was coming off back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons.
"I guess after Travis' visit, I better give more of a tour of my house to free-agent players," Shanahan smiles. "Travis doesn't have a ring yet. Hopefully, he gets one this year."
The Broncos finished eight in rushing last season, their lowest since 2001.
"Anytime you're able to get a difference maker through free agency, you feel very good," Shanahan says. "You're able to get not only a great running back, but a guy who has proven year in, year out he's a playmaker."
Henry may be Denver's most important playmaker in that his presence is key to the development of quarterback Jay Cutler. Henry has cranked out three, 1,000-yard seasons with Buffalo and Tennessee. With 4.38 speed, he generated 1,211 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns for the 8-8 Titans last season. His 4.5 yard average on 270 carries ranked fourth last season for backs with a minimum of 250 carries behind San Francisco's Frank Gore (5.4 yard average), league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson (5.2) and retired New York Giant Tiki Barber (5.1).
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The Broncos see Henry helping to ease pressure on Cutler, much the way he helped Titans quarterback Vince Young enjoy a Rookie of the Year season.
"A lot of Tennessee's success last year was because Travis helped Vince Young because people had to play eight-man fronts," Broncos assistant head coach/quarterbacks Mike Heimerdinger says. "He's a great runner for our scheme. He's physical and that's going to help Jay."
It's been a costly summer. Henry paid running back teammate Mike Bell $10,000 to secure his jersey No. 20. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a child-support judgment in DeKalb County, Ga., revealed Henry fathered nine children from nine women and has been ordered to pay child support for seven of them. Then, there was the sprained left knee he suffered in Denver's Aug. 18 preseason game against Dallas.
Henry is expected to be ready for Denver's Sept. 9 season opener against Buffalo. But the injury cost him valuable repetitions in his bid to mesh quickly with his offensive line and fullback Kyle Johnson. That line is something of a question mark with center Tom Nalen entering his 14th season, left tackle Matt Lepsis coming off ACL surgery and left guard Ben Hamilton missing all of the preseason due to a training camp concussion.
If Hamilton isn't medically cleared to start the season, third-year pro Chris Myers will continue to start. The right side features two second-year pros in right tackle Erik Pears, who started the final 10 games of last season at left tackle, and unproven right guard Chris Kuper.
"Being in the zone-blocking system, each day, I'm feeling more comfortable and getting on the same page with my blockers," Henry says.
In addition, the Broncos signed former New England Patriots tight end Daniel Graham to bolster their run game.
"Having Travis and an effective running game is really the essential piece of the puzzle in giving Jay Cutler time to be comfortable back there," fullback Kyle Johnson says. "Travis has all the tangibles and intangibles you can want in a tailback. And he can make that defensive back miss on the second level. That's what turns 5-, 10-yard runs into touchdowns."
After playing in Buffalo and Tennessee, Henry is thrilled with his new surroundings.
"It's great coming here. We have one thing in mind and that's winning," says Henry. "I'm all about that because I've never really been with an organization with that mindset."