The narrative of Quadree Henderson needing to improve as a wide receiver isn't a new one. Henderson, already a world class (and All-American) kick/punt returner, also excelled as a running back, piling up 630 yards on the ground and five touchdowns.
Where Henderson struggled a little was making an impact as a pass-catcher. On the season as a starter, he had a modest 26 catches for 286 yards and only a single touchdown. As such a dynamic performer with the ball in his hands, Narduzzi is hoping he becomes a better receiver this season.
During the spring, the head coach said it wasn't a matter of his hands, rather, his route running. He hoped to see a lot of improvement out of Henderson and he echoed that sentiment on Friday, too.
"He needs to become an elite receiver," Narduzzi said Friday at the ACC's football kickoff event. "It's great to hand the ball off if he wants to be a running back. But if he wants to play at the next level, he's not going to do it just as a return guy. If he wants to be a tailback, be a tailback. But he needs to be better on the field reading coverages, getting vertical and making big plays down the field. That's been a major focus in the offseason."
If you just take that comment at face value, it can almost read as if he was a little annoyed at Henderson. Of course, that isn't true. Narduzzi was clearly talking about Henderson showcasing more so that he can get to the NFL. He also kind of reiterated that point.
"He wants it, too," Narduzzi said. "He understands that. It's not something where he's satisfied with getting handoffs and maybe catching a bubble once in a while. He has to be a deep threat to play at the next level."
Can he be elite? I don't know. He has the speed and elusiveness, as evidenced by the work he does in the return game and as a running back. But using those tools isn't enough on their own. He has to run routes with pinpoint accuracy, gain separation, find holes in coverage, be mindful to hold onto the ball, catch the ball, etc. There's a lot more to it than simply being fast and shifty.
I'm not sure what a reasonable goal is for Henderson. I always hate to simply put numbers on something and say, 'if he does this, he was successful.' So much of it is situational. I'd take a 3rd down catch and conversion over three meaningless catches, for example. But Henderson will also need to bump up his stats, too, to get more notice by NFL teams. At the risk of quantifying too much, a good starter for him this season might be to get to about 40 catches and 500 yards.
Personally, I don't care where his yardage comes from so much. If he's killing it on the jet sweeps again and Pitt is moving the ball, I'm happy. This is more about continuing his development as a receiver so that, as Narduzzi says, he gets more looks at the next level.