Although Leslie Frazier wouldn't confirm reports that free agent linebacker Desmond Bishop is visiting the Vikings this week, no one is questioning the desire and focus Erin Henderson.
Henderson has taken 100 percent of his offseason snaps at middle linebacker, he said, and that's the position that Bishop likely would play if the Vikings sign him this week after the inside linebacker was released by the Green Bay Packers. Signing Bishop would give the team more depth and flexibility at the linebacker position in general, but no one is questioning Henderson's desire play middle linebacker.
"There's no doubt about that. His hunger is not going to be questioned at any level," strongside linebacker Chad Greenway said. "He's working. I'd just kind of echo back to when he was a young guy here and he's grown up so much, leaps and bounds from his rookie season. He wants to be successful in this league and he wants to be known as a guy that can be counted on week in and week out to be a great player. That's where he's heading."
Henderson said earlier in the offseason that he wants to be on the field full-time, and playing middle linebacker helps him accomplish that goal as the man making the defensive calls on the field no matter what personnel package is deployed.
The biggest adjustment, according to Frazier, will be amending to the mental responsibilities of the middle linebacker position more than the physical traits required.
"His biggest thing is just being able to handle the huddle as part of his job. You'd like to have a guy that has command of the huddle and also provide the leadership that you need at that position, along with some of the things that will have to transpire once we put the pads on, being physical enough and handling some of the run situations we'll put him in," Frazier said. "It seems like, watching him here in these OTAs, some of the things we're asking him to do in pass coverage in this minicamp that he can handle that. It seems that way. Now the next step is when we get to training camp to see how he handles some of the run things that will be required of him."
Last year, Henderson was fourth on the team in tackles. Greenway had 191, safety Harrison Smith had 129, Jasper Brinkley (last year's middle linebacker) had 117 and Henderson was credited with 112, according to the team's statistics.
He did that playing in only 60 percent of the defensive snaps.
Henderson said last month that the leadership portion of the position comes naturally to him. He believes he has the personality traits that allow him to be a natural leader and Greenway agrees.
Greenway also said he believes Henderson will be the starter when he was asked about the requirements of the middle linebacker position in general.
"Let's just talk about Erin because that's who's going to play the spot," Greenway said. "Erin has got every leadership quality you need to have to play middle linebacker. He's been proving that out here. He's proven that last year when he played middle in the nickel situations. He's getting a feel for that now going through OTAs and he looks really good, I think."
Greenway and Henderson realize that the possibility of signing Bishop is up to the coaching staff and management, but each of the players maintained they would welcome Bishop if the team did sign him.
"He's a very talented player, has proven that in his career. If that's the direction of the organization, that's the direction we go as a locker room," Greenway said. "It's just kind of the way it is. You open up with open arms to feel welcome because he can help us, and that's how you win Super Bowls."
Whatever decision the Vikings make with Bishop, their interest in him isn't the result of Henderson lacking desire to play middle linebacker. And, according to Frazier, Henderson has become more proficient in the huddle.
"I think he's shown more command of the defensive huddle than we expected early on. You can see that he has a lot of control, and the guys really respect everything he's trying to get done," Frazier said. "I like his movement. I like the way he's moving around and getting to spots in zone coverages. It's a little bit tougher from a run standpoint because we don't have pads on and you can't be as physical, but I like some of the things he's doing in pass coverage as well."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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