Henderson could return to his normal role playing in both the base and nickel defense this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, who are likely to use more three-wide receivers sets and put a premium on the Vikings' nickel defense.
Henderson rarely takes a snap off in the Vikings' Tampa-2 defense, where head coach Leslie Frazier relies on the veteran's familiarity and leadership on the field. Last week's reduction in snaps was precipitated by swelling and soreness in Henderson's knee caused by the titanium rod inserted into his leg after fracturing his femur in December 2009.
Frazier said the reduction in snaps for Henderson helped with the inflammation.
"He was much better, much better [the last few days], to the point where we're going to let him do a few things today," Frazier said before Wednesday's practice. "That was encouraging. I think it was the right thing by taking some of the snaps off of him."
Last week, Henderson didn't practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. This week, he was limited on Wednesday and, depending on how the knee responds, he could practice fully by the end of the week.
The Vikings used E.J.'s younger brother, Erin, as the "mike" linebacker in their nickel defense on Sunday, increasing his snaps from about five the previous week to approximately 60 against Kansas City. While Frazier liked what he saw from Erin, the middle linebacker job in the nickel defense is still E.J.'s if he is healthy.
"I know [Erin] did a good job, considering the amount of time he's had to play that position. I know he did a real good job and should improve," Frazier said. "The health of E.J. determines how much more Erin will play in that role, but it was good to see him come out and really do a good job. It lets us know that if things continue with E.J. that we have a guy that can really handle that position."
RETURN OF THE TRUE FULLBACK
The elevation of Ryan D'Imperio from the practice squad brings a true fullback into the mix once again. That role had been handled by tight end Jim Kleinsasser so far this year, but promoting D'Imperio will allow the Vikings to use Kleinasser more as an inline blocker, which plays to his strengths.
"If D'Imperio is [active on game day], he's a natural fullback, so it probably means Jim will have fewer snaps in certain situations," Frazier said.
An elbow injury that landed Kleinasser on the injury report last week didn't factor into the team's decision, Frazier said.
D'Imperio proved to be a capable pass-catcher during the preseason, but his effectiveness as a lead blocker wasn't up to snuff. Frazier indicated some of that had to do with D'Imperio not being comfortable with his assignments at the time (remember that D'Imperio, now in his second NFL season, played linebacker in college and was on the practice squad last year).
"He's always been a guy who's had very good hands, but his grasp of what we're trying to do offensively has really improved in this time away from the preseason," Frazier said. "That's one of the things that really encouraged us. It seems like he's really on point with his assignments and that was a little bit of a concern early on. But now he's really focused in, locked in, knows exactly what we expect at that position. Our confidence in his being able to go out and play has really improved."
Donovan McNabb has competed only eight passes of 20 yards or more in the first four games, putting him in the bottom third of the league in that category, but Frazier said they aren't coaching him to be conservative.
"We're not really coaching conservatism. We want to take shots. That's one of the reasons we take shots in our ballgames," Frazier said. "It's just having us connecting on them. We need to connect on a few more and then we'll really help our run game as well.
"We're not teaching or coaching being conservative at the quarterback position. We want to be aggressive. We want to get the football down the field. We want big plays."
Gabbert's promotion to the starting role in Week 3 was the only NFL quarterback change made in the first three weeks that wasn't due to injury. That's fewest starting QB changes in the first three weeks since 1989.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.