Every day is an audition for players. Linebacker Erin Henderson is trying to get his lead role back.
As Henderson took a break from the team to deal with personal issues and the pressure he felt in his life, he lost his starting job at middle linebacker. Replacement Audie Cole played well in Henderson's stead and didn't relinquish the position for five games.
Sunday, however, against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cole suffered a high ankle sprain and Henderson was moved back from weakside linebacker to the middle, a position he wants to earn for the long-term.
"It was great. I felt like I was back at home. It was like when you buy a new car and you get to drive it for a little bit and they take it away from you and you get it back and it's like, ‘Oh, this is how it was like driving it,'" Henderson said. "I enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to embracing that role once again this week and rallying the guys and troops and getting ready to prepare for battle."
Henderson came away from his first duty back at middle linebacker with a team-leading and game-leading 12 tackles, including one for a loss. On the season, despite not playing in two games and then playing the less utilized weakside linebacker for three more, he is second on the team in tackles with 139, trailing Chad Greenway by 19. Henderson is tied for the team lead with 14 tackles for losses, has three sacks, two interceptions, three passes defensed and a forced fumble from Sunday.
"I thought he did a good job when he stepped in in the absence of Audie," Frazier said of Henderson. "Came in, made some nice tackles for us, did a pretty good job of directing defense. I thought he did a pretty good job of moving over from the outside linebacker spot to the middle linebacker spot."
He will have one more chance to do that this season when he takes the field for the final game Sunday in the Metrodome. After that, all bets are off. There will be a new venue, TCF Bank Stadium, and possibly a new head coach or coordinator when players congregate again in April for the start of the offseason program.
"I think every time we step out there you're auditioning and you're trying to show and prove to the people around here and to your teammates and to the coaching staff and people upstairs who and what you are," Henderson said. "I think they've been evaluating us throughout the year and trying to figure out who they have in this locker room and who they want to keep around – who fits here and where. It's another chance, another opportunity for me to go out there and show what I'm capable of and I'm just going to make the best of it."
After Sunday, there are so many unknowns. Whether or not there is a new coaching staff, there will be some new blood on defense and the scheme might also be different.
Henderson can control none of that. All he can do is hope his last ride of the season is a good one as the "quarterback of the defense."
"You have to run the show, you have to take control and people have to be able to look into your eyes and see the right things. If you're playing Cover-2, (playing middle linebacker is) very important," he said. "You're the middle safety basically if you're playing Cover-2. A lot of teams try to attack the middle of the field. In our scheme and the things that they ask us to do, they do put a lot of emphasis and lot of pressure and a lot onus on it."
Despite all of that – or maybe because of it – Henderson is glad to get another crack at it.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.