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OWINGS MILLS - Testimonials for E.J. Henderson tend to center around a phrase forgotten too often in the scouting process. Football player. For many involved in the NFL draft, there's no greater compliment. "> site subscription.

OWINGS MILLS - Testimonials for E.J. Henderson tend to center around a phrase forgotten too often in the scouting process. Football player. For many involved in the NFL draft, there's no greater compliment. ">

Terrapins' Henderson a classic middle linebacker

<p><i>This article is free to all readers. If you would like to support this site, read more of Aaron's stuff and participate in premium chats and forums, please consider a <A HREF="http://ravens.theinsiders.com/3/TapInfo.html">site subscription.</A></i> <p>OWINGS MILLS - Testimonials for E.J. Henderson tend to center around a phrase forgotten too often in the scouting process. Football player. For many involved in the NFL draft, there's no greater compliment.

In the case of the aggressive Maryland middle linebacker and Butkus Award winner, the prevailing opinion on him is this: His production and instincts overshadow a lack of elite speed despite some scouts' view of him as a limited two-down player.

Several talent evaluators value him because he's a classic middle linebacker who thrives on violent contact.

"What I know about him is this: He's a football player," Baltimore Ravens outside linebackers coach Phil Zacharias said. "I think he's a hell of a player. Someone will get him and be very happy."

Henderson is projected as a potential first-round draft pick, and has been linked in mock drafts to the New Orleans Saints (No. 18), New England Patriots (No. 19) Cleveland Browns (No. 21) and Green Bay Packers (No. 29).

With the Terrapins last fall, Henderson demonstrated his full recovery from having bone spurs removed from his back. Even though microphones barely amplify his soft-spoken voice, Henderson's play spoke volumes.

The Aberdeen native collected 175 tackles, 19.5 tackles for losses, 8.5 sacks and two interceptions, winning the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender and repeating as the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

"E.J.'s a beast," Maryland wide receiver Scooter Monroe said. "He's all over the field."

Henderson has above-average size at 6-1, 245 pounds, but recently ran the 40-yard dash with decent times of 4.68 and 4.82 seconds.

Will his college production translate to the much faster speed of the NFL game? That's to be determined.

"I want to prove to the scouts that I can play three downs," Henderson told reporters at the scouting combine in February. "I want to buck the two-down trend."

Although admittedly biased, Maryland defensive coordinator Gary Blackney qualifies as an authority on Henderson. And he's more than willing to vouch for his protégé's potential.

"I think he'll pick up just where he left off," Blackney said. "I don't think he'll have any significant adjustment problems in the NFL. The biggest difference is the sophistication of NFL offenses.

"In terms of him bridging the gap from college, he's big and instinctive and does things you can't coach with the way he anticipates the play and the force he brings to a tackle. I would be surprised if there's a better middle linebacker in this year's draft."

Henderson was twice named an All-American and had an astounding 28 tackles for losses as a junior to break Randy White's school mark. In 2001, Henderson emerged as a standout with 150 tackles and six sacks despite missing one game for violating a team rule.

He also made several plays in pursuit and gained a reputation for being tough to stop on a blitz.

"I think E.J. is a real solid inside 'backer," Ravens director of player personnel Phil Savage said. "I think you'll probably see him go somewhere in the first round."

 Medically, Henderson is supposed to have a clean bill of health now after suffering his back injury while preparing for the Orange Bowl in 2001. Henderson underwent surgery last April and answered all questions with his ferocity last fall.

In the regular-season finale against Wake Forest, Henderson tied his career high with 19 tackles. Ravens inside linebackers coach Mike Singletary, a Hall of Fame middle linebacker with the Chicago Bears, said he was highly impressed with Henderson's approach to the game.

"E.J. is an excellent knee-bender who plays with such a good pad level," Blackney said. "He's got great hip-snapping ability and will always take on a guard or a fullback. When he steps up in the hole, there's going to be a collision every time. You don't always see that in the NFL."

However, NFL teams covet pure speed, a burst, not just instincts and a willingness to engage blockers helmet to helmet. Is Henderson fast enough to cover a Marshall Faulk out of the backfield? Or will he be taken out of the game in obvious passing situations?

"He can go sideline to sideline," Blackney said. "I don't care what his flat-out 40 speed is. He has great football speed. Just turn on the game film and you'll learn everything you want to know about E.J. Henderson.

"E.J. is a very quiet, humble individual. He plays with great passion that's electrifying."

NOTE: Savage said he projects Maryland offensive guard Todd Wike, defensive end Durrand Roundtree and punter Brooks Barnard as probable second-day selections. He said they will be sought after by teams as free agents if they go undrafted.


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