It was clear early on that Henderson was one of the Vikings' three best linebackers in camp and the coaching staff has vowed to get the top trio out there regardless of past experience at any certain spot. As a result, Dontarrious Thomas was moved to the weak side with the second team and Rod Davis bumped up from the third team to play the middle.
"We'll see how (Henderson) adapts, and if he does a good job at the Will linebacker position, we'll keep him there," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said. "But we're trying to find him a spot because he's having a good, strong camp and we're very pleased with the way Sam Cowart is playing. So we're trying to get a spot where E.J. will be a little bit more available to us out on the field and give him some opportunities for some more snaps."
Henderson started last Friday's preseason victory over Kansas City, playing alongside Cowart and strong-side linebacker Napoleon Harris. Henderson is expected to remain in that role for Friday night's game against the Jets.
"I just have to adjust to walking out to that slot receiver and playing the run and the pass," Henderson said of getting used to his new spot.
Henderson's success in camp is a testament to working hard and not pouting when things don't go right.
Cowart was acquired as part of the Vikings' offseason makeover on defense because the team felt it needed a veteran leader in the middle. Henderson started 16 games, including playoffs, at the position but frequently found himself out of position and struggled to get the other linebackers lined up.
When the 30-year-old Cowart was obtained, Henderson took it as a challenge; he spent the offseason working hard and saw Cowart's presence as a way to learn from a veteran.
Cowart is playing on a one-year contract so there is a chance that if Henderson proves himself at the weak side this season, he could find himself back in the middle in 2006.
CAMP CALENDAR: Camp breaks (from Mankato), Aug. 18.
NOTES, QUOTES The "heat pill" the team has used during camp to keep track of player's core temperatures wasn't taken by any of the 25 Vikings who agreed to test it during a practice last Wednesday. Part of the reason was because of the cooler temps that day in Mankato. "It's something we'll use here and there throughout the season, based on the conditions," athletic trainer Chuck Barta said. Jacksonville for Philadelphia also have used the "heat pill."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Darren Bennett vs. Travis Dorsch for the punting job - This wasn't supposed to be much of a competition, but it certainly turned into one during Friday night's first preseason game. Coach Mike Tice was less than pleased when Bennett shanked his first punt. The ball traveled only 29 yards and the Chiefs started their drive near midfield. Dorsch received the next opportunity, which came from the Kansas City 37, and his punt was downed at the 8-yard line. "It wasn't a competition before, but it is now," Tice said.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Coach Mike Tice said early in camp that a decision on a kicker might be made by the first preseason game. Fat chance. Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger are going to make this as difficult as possible. Both kickers have been just about even during practices and the pair made their only field-goal attempts against the Chiefs - Edinger hitting from 48 yards and Elling from 40 yards. ... Napoleon Harris, who has been learning a new linebacker spot on the go after being obtained from Oakland in the Randy Moss deal, is being pushed for the strong side job by Keith Newman. "I think that competition is one of the fiercest competitions in camp," Tice said. ... Adam Goldberg and rookie Marcus Johnson are both seeing some action with the first-team offense at left guard and Tice called the competition "wide open." ... Second-year player Anthony Herrera is challenging Cory Withrow for the job at backup center. ... With Williamson hurt, Mewelde Moore appears on track to win the kick return job.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Mewelde Moore. Moore had a solid all-around performance against the Chiefs, rushing for 62 yards on five carries in the second quarter and returning two kickoffs for an average of 32.5 yards. Most of Moore's rushing yards came on a 50-yard run and he completed that drive by catching a 7-yard touchdown pass. In addition, running backs coach Dean Dalton said Moore did a good job in pass protection, something he struggled with as a rookie last season. About the only downside for Moore came when his helmet popped off and he was poked in the eye.
ROOKIE REPORT: WR Troy Williamson (seventh overall) should return this week from the soft tissue injury he suffered near his right ankle last week. Williamson had been used with the second team before he was hurt; his best training-camp performance came during the Tuesday night scrimmage in which he was hurt. With Kelly Campbell having been slowed by a quadriceps injury, Williamson had an excellent chance to move to No. 4 on the depth chart if he had remained healthy. ... DE Erasmus James (No. 18) signed a five-year contract after missing the first 19 practices while the deal was negotiated. If James had arrived on time, he would have been a starter at left end in passing situations and challenged right end Darrion Scott for the No. 1 job. ... Second-round pick Marcus Johnson, who began camp working as a backup at right tackle, was switched to left guard to provide competition for Adam Goldberg. That is a clear sign the Vikings have confidence in the health of right tackle Mike Rosenthal, who broke his foot early last season ... S Dustin Fox, a third-round selection, remains out as he recovers from a fractured left arm suffered early in camp. ... RB Ciatrick Fason (fourth round) had a solid debut against Kansas City, rushing for 55 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. ... DT C.J. Mosley (sixth round) has made no impact in camp and is running with the third team. ... CB Adrian Ward (seventh round) tied for second with three tackles versus Kansas City and is seeing time with the second team in the nickel because of injuries to defensive backs.
At 35 — after six NFL seasons and five in the CFL — quarterback Jeff Garcia can talk the talk.
But it remains to be seen if he will get a chance to walk the walk after being signed as the backup to Lions quarterback Joey Harrington.
Although he is coming off a dismal season with the Cleveland Browns (three wins in 10 starts, a touchdown-to-interception ration of 10-to-9 and a passer rating of 76.7), Garcia has made it clear that he still considers himself a starting quarterback.
Many Lions fans — frustrated with Harrington's 14-30 record as a three-year starter — are ready to accept him as the team's quarterback and coach Steve Mariucci seems to have more good to say about Garcia than Harrington.
But Garcia was not impressive in the Lions' preseason opener — completing seven of 11 passes for 52 yards and throwing a costly interception — and Harrington showed no sign of crumbling under the pressure of his more experienced backup, completing nine passes in nine attempts for 100 yards in the 10-3 loss to the New York Jets.
Garcia might have been handicapped by the fact he was playing with the second offensive unit but it is expected he will get a chance to work with the Lions' promising young receivers - Roy Williams and Charles Rogers - to show what he's capable of doing.
Whatever happens, there is little doubt in Garcia's mind that he can still be the quarterback he was when he was playing for Mariucci in San Francisco a few years ago.
"There are some guys that don't mind sitting on the side collecting a check," Garcia said. "I prefer to earn my check. It's just one of those things.
"I'm not here to create controversy. I'm just here to help the position get better.
"I think everybody here would like to see Joey succeed. You'd like to see the guy really come out on top. But if he, for some reason, can't do it, if he's struggling ... well, then here I am."
Like so many times earlier in his career, Garcia has a challenge ahead of him but he says he's still up to it.
"I'm going to show this team - my teammates, my coaches - that I'm a starting quarterback," he said. "That's all than I can say I'm here to do."
Both Rogers and Harrington have experienced a rough ride in the early years of their NFL careers, and Bradshaw says he can relate. Like Rogers, he suffered collarbone fractures and, like Harrington, he was subjected to criticism by the hometown fans.
"I just talked to Charles Rogers about his collarbone because I had broken mine twice, really bad," Bradshaw said. "Had it operated on, pinned, letting him know."
Bradshaw said he also advised Rogers on the right way to protect himself from doing additional damage to his twice-broken collarbone. The injury usually happens, he said, because a player lands hard on the elbow, transferring the impact to the collarbone, rather than being struck directly on the collarbone.
"You practice protecting it early, get your confidence so it doesn't interfere with catching the ball and doing the things you do," Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw said he can also relate to Harrington when he thinks back to his early seasons with the Steelers.
"Everybody's screaming for your throat," Bradshaw said. "It gets in your head. It gets in there bad."
Bradshaw said he advised Harrington to get mad and play through it.
"For me, it was just good to hear of another guy who struggled and made it through it," Harrington said.
He played special teams, he was the lead blocker for the running backs and he hit with such force that the Lions' equipment men routinely had to change his bent face masks.
The Lions are hoping now that he will be quick in recovering from a broken right fibula suffered in their 10-3 preseason loss to the New York Jets at the Meadowlands.
"Six to eight weeks," coach Steve Mariucci said. "That's a tough one on us."
If Schlesinger is able to recovery quickly, the Lions feel he might be ready to return for the Oct. 2 game against Tampa Bay, a week after their bye.
"He will be back," Mariucci said. "He will play most of the games this season. If you're going to break it, break it in the first preseason and not the last or during the year. We'll have him for a majority of the year."
Schlesinger said the injury occurred when he was trying to get around the corner and deliver a block.
"I think Kevin (Jones) got held up back there and the guy came up the field faster, at a different angle," Schlesinger said. "I just stuck my leg out there to try and trip him up. One good shot and he got me pretty good. I felt I got kicked in the shin more than anything."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Eventually, here's what you have to do: You have to get so mad at (yourself) - whatever it is that forces you to get internal and get strong - you have to take it on yourself to say, ‘You're not going to run me out of here, I'll prove you wrong.' If that's what you have to do, then that's what you do. I know I did it, I got so angry." — Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw on his advice to Lions quarterback Joey Harrington.
TRAINING CAMP ANALYSIS
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Earl Holmes vs. Teddy Lehman for the middle linebacker job. This is a battle Lehman isn't likely to win but it's one that gives the Lions good depth at the MLB position. Holmes, in his 10th NFL season, has the experience and run-stopping ability the Lions need inside but Lehman's speed gives them an additional element.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Casey FitzSimmons seems to have locked up the backup TE job behind Marcus Pollard but the competition is on for a No. 3 TE. Undrafted rookie Jason Randall has the size to handle blocking assignments and the Lions signed Justin Swift last week, replacing Leonard Stephens in the competition. Swift caught a 16-yard pass in the opening preseason game. ... The competition for the backup CB jobs remains strong. Youngsters Keith Smith and Stanley Wilson are battling veterans Andre Goodman, Chris Cash and R.W. McQuarters for roster spots.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Quarterback Joey Harrington has been a target of fan displeasure after going 14-30 as a starter in his first three NFL seasons but he was a perfect 9-for-9 and 100 yards in the Lions preseason opener against the Jets, giving no indication he might be ready to yield the job to veteran backup Jeff Garcia.
ROOKIE REPORT: First-round pick WR Mike Williams is the No. 4 receiver behind Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Kevin Johnson, playing primarily at split end and as a slot receiver. He has been steady in his development, although has not been spectacular. ... Second-round pick DT Shaun Cody is working with the No. 2 defensive line group and got extensive playing time in the opening preseason game. ... Third-round pick CB Stanley Wilson is being used on several special teams and is getting experience as the No. 3 LCB, an indication he will be on the 53-man roster. ... Fifth-round pick QB Dan Orlovsky played most of the second half of the preseason opener and is expected to go into the season as the No. 3 QB. ... Sixth-round pick DE Bill Swancutt is playing behind James Hall and Kalimba Edwards at RDE and got extensive playing time in the preseason opener. ... Sixth-round pick OLB Johnathan Goddard is being used on several special teams to take advantage of his speed and athletic ability.
INJURY REPORT: RB Cory Schlesinger suffered a broken right fibula and is expected to require 6-8 weeks to recover.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Though it doesn't count in the team standings and won't boost the already-superior individual marksmanship, the Packers started the season on the right foot. As in the right foot of kicker Ryan Longwell.
The ninth-year veteran drilled a 53-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter to decide a 10-7 preseason win over San Diego last Thursday.
Longwell, only 30 years old, is the Packers' all-time points leader with 964, 141 more than runner-up and Hall of Famer Don Hutson. A good amount of Longwell's unrivaled success stems from his uncanny ability to weather the nasty conditions that typically prey on Green Bay not long after Labor Day.
The latest testament of Longwell's weatherproof abilities occurred in the face of a downpour at Lambeau Field in the exhibition opener.
Chargers counterpart Nate Kaeding, perhaps still unnerved by his missed shot at a game-winning field goal in the AFC wild-card loss to the New York Jets, misfired on three attempts in a span of six minutes in the fourth quarter, leaving the score deadlocked at 7-7.
While Kaeding was left standing shellshocked and drenched on the sideline, Longwell calmly boomed his only field-goal try of the game inside the right upright and over the crossbar.
"I (aimed) that thing 4 feet inside the left upright, and that's exactly where it started," said Longwell, crediting new holder B.J. Sander for getting the wet football placed perfectly on the saturated ground.
In sharp contrast to the fallout for Kaeding, there's been a positive carryover effect from last season for Longwell. He became the first kicker since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to connect on four game-winning field goals in the final minute of the fourth quarter in the same season.
Two of those clutch kicks came at Lambeau late in the season, when temperatures were below 50 and the winds were whipping inside the bowl-shaped stadium.
Mike Sherman, in his sixth year as head coach, has been around long enough to know what a game-changing asset he has at his disposal with Longwell, incidentally a West Coast native.
"I don't want to say too much about him. He says enough about himself," a smiling, yet grateful Sherman said after Thursday's game. "I let him do the talking."
The University of California-educated Longwell figures to do a lot more talking in an attempt to drum up league wide support for himself that has been peculiarly lacking in recent years. Longwell has yet to be selected to a Pro Bowl, never mind that he ranks fourth all-time among NFL kickers for career accuracy with a field-goal percentage of 82.4.
The mark is better in games at home, where Longwell has made 106 of 126 attempts, or 84.1 percent. Opposing kickers have made only 73.4 percent of their attempts in games against the Packers at Lambeau since Longwell's rookie season in 1997.
"I fought my darnedest to prove you guys (the media) that this ain't a dome and this ain't San Diego to kick," said Longwell, in the final year of his contract. "So, when a guy comes here (like Kaeding last week), this isn't San Diego. You're not kicking in California. This is August, which is our good weather.
"You never want to see a guy struggle; you never want to see him do that," added Longwell, touching on Kaeding's woes. "But, at the same time, anytime you can prove your worth, you have to seize the opportunity, and we had a good one."
The slimmed-down 35-year-old, who reported to camp weighing 217, looked like the three-time league MVP of the mid- to late 1990s in his 2005 debut Thursday. Playing the first 1 1/2 quarters, Favre completed nine of 10 passes for 91 yards and a dazzling efficiency rating of 137.9.
Favre capped his brief outing by directing a 12-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 23-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Donald Driver. Favre was 7-of-8 passing for 64 yards, including an 8-yard completion to Antonio Chatman on a fourth-and-4 play in Chargers territory.
In all, Favre hooked up with eight different receivers on passes.
"It's the best start he's had since I've been here in the preseason," Sherman said. "We usually knock the kinks out a little bit (with him early in the preseason). But, he did a pretty good job (Thursday). It's as good as I can remember."
All eyes in the crowd of 69,611 were fixated on the debut of No. 1 draft pick Aaron Rodgers, anointed Favre's heir apparent.
Rodgers relieved Favre in the second quarter and ran the offense for four series until the midway point of the fourth quarter. All of the possessions ended with the Packers punting, including three three-and-outs.
Rodgers completed only two of six passes for 7 yards. He was sacked twice, one caused by getting tangled up with third-string center Chris White as Rodgers retreated after taking the snap. Rodgers also had to leave the game one play into a series late in the first half because of technical difficulties with the radio inside his helmet, which didn't allow him to hear the plays being called in from the sideline.
"It wasn't the best," Rodgers said of his first time out. "My helmet conked out twice. I got stepped on and fell down. It was embarrassing."
Craig Nall, who wasn't supposed to play in the game, stepped in for Rodgers during the faulty transmission-interrupted series in the second quarter, which also resulted in a three-and-out.
J.T. O'Sullivan finished the game and was only slightly more productive than Rodgers, going 4-of-8 for 24 yards.
First-year coordinator Jim Bates kept some of his starters on the field for the remainder of the opening half, which ended with the Chargers not producing any points in a total of six possessions.
As much as that was an accomplishment for a beleaguered unit that ranked 25th in total defense last season, there was cause for concern. The Packers allowed a Chargers rushing attack, minus star LaDainian Tomlinson, to churn out an average of 5.1 yards per carry in the opening 30 minutes. Unheralded second-year Michael Turner started in place of Tomlinson and racked up 42 yards in six first-half carries.
Turner finished with eight rushes for 70 yards as the Chargers totaled 125 yards on the ground.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No one is saying we're a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. We're still a work in progress. ... If they keep giving effort, I think we'll keep getting better. I think we'll be better against the Bills (on Saturday) than we were this (last) week." — Sherman on the uneven play of the defense, particularly the starting group, in the first preseason game.
TRAINING CAMP ANALYSIS
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: William Whitticker vs. Matt O'Dwyer and Atlas Herrion for starting job at right guard. Whitticker, a rookie taken in the seventh round out of Michigan State, has shot up the depth chart from No. 3 to No. 1 in the last week. The coaching staff has been wowed by the 6-foot-5, 338-pound Whitticker's combination of imposing size with deft hands and nimble feet and rewarded him with a start in the preseason opener. Whitticker may remain in the starting lineup for the game at Buffalo on Saturday. O'Dwyer, an 11th-year veteran signed as a free agent this year, hurt himself with two penalties (false start, holding) in the second half Thursday.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Adrian Klemm vs. Grey Ruegamer for the starting job at left guard. Head coach Mike Sherman would like to have the both guard spots settled after the Buffalo game, so workhorse Ruegamer could make things interesting with a solid showing this weekend. ... With the release of Freeman, fellow veteran free-agent signee Earl Little and rookie Marviel Underwood remain as the only challengers to unseat veteran incumbent Mark Roman and rookie Nick Collins for the starting safety spots.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: P B.J. Sander. So far, one year has made quite a difference, positively no less, for the embattled third-round draft pick of 2004. Sander turned the jeers of Packers fans into cheers with an impressive preseason debut Thursday. He averaged 46 yards (41.1 net) with seven punts on a tough, rainy night for kicking. His worst punt turned out to be his longest, with a mishit out to the left taking a nice roll and covering 53 yards. "Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good," said Sander, whose fate of not kicking in the regular season last year was sealed when he shanked a punt 5 yards in the preseason finale. Sander is the only punter on the roster, though he hasn't secured the job. Still, he helped himself with an ideal hold on Ryan Longwell's game-winning, 53-yard field goal in the final minute of the game last week.
ROOKIE REPORT: QB Aaron Rodgers (first round) seeks better results in his second preseason go-around. Rodgers is penciled in to work second again in the quarterback rotation at Buffalo, following Favre. ... S Nick Collins (second round) was caught up in the moment of making an easy interception in the first quarter of the win over San Diego. He made the pick with no receiver in the vicinity 6 yards deep in the end zone and, reminiscent of former Packers safety Darren Sharper's antics, brought the ball out to the Green Bay 13-yard line. Sherman later lectured Collins on avoiding a repeat runback. ... CB Mike Hawkins (fifth round) was beat on a post route by Chargers receiver Willie Quinnie on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers in the third quarter. Hawkins regrouped and totaled four tackles. ... DE Michael Montgomery (sixth round) was third on the team in the game with five tackles, highlighted by a 10-yard sack of Cleo Lemon in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. ... WR Craig Bragg (sixth round) didn't have a catch Thursday but auditioned for the role of punt returner in the second half and had a team-best return of 10 yards.