For the last seven seasons, there has been a Henderson in the middle of the Vikings defense. Fans have come to know E.J. Henderson for his skill, toughness and playmaking ability.
It looks as though there could be two Hendersons in the Vikings lineup when the season opens Sept. 11 at San Diego. After three years of waiting in the wings, Erin Henderson is preparing to join his brother E.J. in the Vikings starting lineup.
The younger Henderson has always bristled at the thought that he was brought to the Vikings because of the success his brother had with the team, but added that, even if that was true, it would only go so far.
"I've heard that before," Erin said. "If people want to believe that, that's fine. But teams don't keep guys just because of who they are. They keep them for what they do on the field."
In his first three seasons, Henderson's primary impact was on special teams. He has just five career tackles with the Vikings defense, but, like backup defensive end Brian Robison, the team made a commitment to keeping him. Just as the signing of Robison sent the message that the Vikings were moving beyond Ray Edwards, who was slated to be an unrestricted free agent, the same tactic was taken with Henderson in relation to starting weakside linebacker Ben Leber.
"I believed what the coaches were telling me," Henderson said. "We had conversations before the lockout and I had the feeling they were being honest with me and that they meant what they were saying. They offered me a contract before the lockout and I think that said a lot as far as where we stood and where we were headed. I believed in them and had the utmost confidence in them, but I knew I was coming out here to work regardless."
Henderson's promotion to the starting lineup – the team hasn't ruled out re-signing Ben Leber – will be a test by fire. Few positions require as much versatility as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Henderson said the strength of his game is going be a combination of different skills.
"You would like to believe it was a mixture of everything," Henderson said. "It takes a lot to play the Will ‘backer. You've got to be physical. You've got to be nasty. You have to take on (isolation plays), you have to take on pulling guards, you also have to drop back in coverage and run with some of the best wide receivers in the game out of the slot. There are a lot of different things to play the position and I'm grateful for this opportunity."
Head coach Leslie Frazier said that Henderson has earned the opportunity to compete for (and win) the starting job, saying that nothing will be handed to him, but that he currently sits atop what will be the first team depth chart of the season.
"We're going to put the best 11 players on the field," Frazier said. "We're looking at Erin and Jasper Brinkley (at the weakside position) and, when he gets healthy, (injured linebacker) Kenny Onatolu. We expect to have some spirited competition there and hopefully will bring out the best in all of them."
Henderson said he welcomes the competition and doesn't want to be handed a starting job. He wants to earn it.
"This is the opportunity I've been waiting this whole career for," Henderson said. "I'm going out there every day knowing that nothing is guaranteed and I have to work to get it. That's how I'm approaching it and I'm going to do everything I can to win the job."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Erin Henderson focused on earning it
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