View Full Version : Linebacker Henderson making a definitive statement

08-09-2006, 10:19 AM
Linebacker Henderson making a definitive statement

A better-conditioned E.J. Henderson is playing free and smart this summer, making it tough for coaches to discount him as a starting linebacker.

Kevin Seifert, Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/510/story/603457.html)

MANKATO - E.J. Henderson has arrived at the proverbial crossroads. He's tried, failed, succeeded, remained afloat and is now trying, one final time, to make himself into a dominant NFL linebacker.

"I feel like I've got a fresh start," Henderson said Tuesday, standing quietly outside the Vikings locker room after another strong training camp practice.

"I'm not really looking to wipe out all the years I've been here, because there have been some good years. I've played with some good players and good coaches, and I have some good memories along with some bad memories.

"But this is kind of the time to start fresh."

Not long ago, Henderson appeared to be the Vikings' middle linebacker of the future, an instinctive and hard-hitting cannonball who earned the 2002 Butkus Award as the nation's top collegiate linebacker. Yet he bombed as the starter in 2004, overwhelmed by the positioning and play-calling aspects of the "quarterback" role on defense.

Henderson moved to the outside with mixed results last season, and the arrival of first-round draft pick Chad Greenway suggested that Henderson's days with the Vikings were numbered. Thus far, however, Henderson has held off Greenway and has turned in the Vikings' most surprising early performance of training camp.

Ten pounds lighter after a vigorous offseason regimen, Henderson is moving quicker to his assignments. The Vikings' simpler defensive scheme, meanwhile, is enabling him to react more decisively and with great violence during "live" contact drills.

He has fit so well into the weak-side (Will) linebacker position, in fact, that the Vikings appear to have scuttled plans to test him at middle linebacker. Coach Brad Childress said Tuesday that Henderson is best suited to remain where he is, meaning Napoleon Harris will continue as the middle linebacker and Greenway -- for now -- will back up Henderson.

"I'm not sure you use [Henderson's] skills as well in the middle of everything," Childress said. "I think his [skills] from the 'Will' linebacker allows him to be able to play his technique running to the football. He's good at the point of attack and he makes as many plays away from the formation, away from where the ball is going, as anybody.

"He has the ability and he has the knowledge to be able to play in there, but with his particular skill set, I'd be hesitant to move him anywhere."

Henderson, who is in the final year of his original rookie contract, prepared for this season by agreeing to reduce his playing weight from 245 pounds to about 235; he is now lighter than during his senior year in college. The lower weight has maximized his speed and also taken some pressure off a pair of knees that have given him trouble in the past.

The change was evident during practice Tuesday morning, when Henderson ran some 20 yards across the field and drilled running back Mewelde Moore with a vicious upper-body blow.

"You can definitely feel the difference," Henderson said. "Ten pounds is a big amount of weight for someone like me. It definitely feels better to be a little lighter. Especially when you come down here and are playing in the heat, it's definitely good to be able to fly around. It lets you run around and then feel a lot better afterwards."

Dropping the weight is only part of the battle, however. Henderson said he has taken an immediate liking to defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin's scheme. Tomlin is the third Vikings coordinator in Henderson's four seasons, but this summer, Henderson said, "it's become fun again."

According to Henderson, Tomlin's defense calls for a clear emphasis on stopping the run first and then reacting to the pass. That delineation already is helping Henderson play more naturally.

"It's a lot simpler and a lot more cut and dried," Henderson said. "It's a lot more reading the quarterback, compared to reading receivers and reading routes. It's easier, a lot more relaxed. We're using our instincts and having fun."

08-09-2006, 12:13 PM
Nice to hear all that.. Looks like one position has been settled for the time being..