Erin Henderson finds a lot of ways to be motivated, but a lack of respect is a consistent theme.
He's found plenty of that lately – real or perceived – in talk of the Vikings having interest in Brian Urlacher. Keep in mind, however, that all of the chatter on Urlacher has been from outside sources, like a Chicago columnist that appears to be barking up the wrong relocation tree.
At every turn, when Vikings sources have been asked about an interest in Urlacher, there is a direct quote or a dismissive tone to suggest otherwise. It would go against their theme of building with young players, and Henderson is still young enough to fit into that category, which is why the Vikings were willing to invest in him for at least the next two seasons at a price of $4 million.
Still, Henderson told 1500 ESPN last week that he isn't happy with all the talk of Urlacher.
"Coach told me all the time, ‘Play angry. You're too nice sometimes. Play angry,'" Henderson told 1500 ESPN. "I haven't been more pissed in – I couldn't tell you. I don't think I've ever been this pissed in my entire life, to just hear people talk about stuff that they have no idea what they're talking about.
"I guess it's getting to a point now where it's like, ‘Dang, I just want a little bit of respect.' I'm not asking you to call me the greatest linebacker to ever play the game yet. Maybe one day we might get to that point, but show me a little bit of respect for what I've done and what I've accomplished in this league."
If the Vikings play their sound bites right, they can keep Henderson's high level of, uh, pissed-off-ishness in place. It's the ultimate motivator – perform or you could be replaced by Uncle Urlacher, whether there is any truth to that or not.
In this case, forwarding the story works for both Henderson, who has a reason to feel slighted again, and the Vikings, who can trust that a motivated Henderson will be an improved Henderson.
Before the Vikings re-signed Henderson before he reached unrestricted free agency in March, they had reviewed the tape on him. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams saw an improving linebacker, but one that needs more consistency.
"I think for him it's still a growing process. He still had some inconsistent plays, but the thing about Erin was that I think he made more than he missed, so in the plays that he made he had more big plays," Williams told Viking Update after reviewing Henderson's film from 2012. "The inconsistent plays just didn't hurt us as much. The whole defense worked out where one guy may be a little inconsistent in one spot and miss a play, but other guys are in the right spot and other guys are running to the football so they don't turn into big plays."
Urlacher has the respect of opponents for the player he used to be, and maybe the leader he still could be. Maybe he could still bring good leadership to the position that is the "quarterback of the defense," but Henderson believes he already has the respect of his teammates. Williams, his defensive coordinator, agrees.
"I think Erin's a natural leader and you want a guy like that on the field to be able to make your calls and get the defense lined up," Williams.
Urlacher reportedly turned down a one-year, $2 million deal that included a $500,000 signing bonus, $500,000 workout bonus and a $1 million salary. Length of contract aside, that's essentially the same kind of annual earnings that the Vikings gave Henderson, who has more upside at this point in their respective careers.
The Vikings refuse to disparage Urlacher and why should they? There is no upside there. They might just motivate him, like they have Henderson, if Urlacher reverses course and re-signs with Bears.
"Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier told NFL Network. "He was a thorn in our side for many years. At this point we want to look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position then we'll see where it takes us."
At this point, even the Bears think there is less than a 50 percent chance they will re-sign Urlacher. If they are that wiling to move on without him, why should the Vikings be eager to sign him?
Fact is, few teams have really shown much interest in Urlacher. Three weeks into free agency, he hadn't even gone on any free-agent visits and it seems whenever there is reported interest in him – most of it likely manufactured by his representatives to try to create a market – it is shot down in good time.
Henderson has plenty of motivation. He wants to take over the middle linebacker position, the one his older brother ably manned for many years, and become more of a full-time, three-down player. Last year, he played in only 60 percent of the defensive snaps. Whether he plays middle linebacker or weakside linebacker this year, that's likely to increase dramatically and he should be in for the majority of the nickel snaps, too.
For now, the Urlacher speculation seems to be yielding positive results. Like Donovan McNabb at the end of 2011 and during the 2012 offseason, it's appearing more and more that Urlacher's days in the NFL are over and it's just a matter of him coming to grips with that.
In the meantime, the Vikings are the beneficiary with a "pissed" Henderson aching for respect.
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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