Who Will Back Up Henderson?

Middle linebacker Max Yates, who is in his third training camp with the Vikings, is in a tight battle with fifth-round draft choice Rod Davis for backup duties behind E.J. Henderson. See what Yates and Davis have to say about their preseason progress.

This is linebacker Max Yates' third preseason with the Vikings. If this isn't his best it could be his last.

As an undrafted rookie free agent in 2002, the Vikings released Yates just a week before the season started. He suffered a similar fate last year when the Vikings waived him on Aug. 31, then eventually assigned him to the practice squad.

This summer, Yates finds himself once again battling for a roster spot. Entering camp the deck was stacked against him. It still might be, considering the Vikings drafted Rod Davis in the fifth round in April.

For now, Yates is the second-team middle linebacker behind E.J. Henderson. Davis is the third-team middle linebacker. It is difficult to determine whether Yates is ahead of Davis for practical reasons or for tactical reasons.

By seniority, Yates is well ahead of Davis, who is paddling his way through his first NFL training camp. Listing rookies at the bottom of a depth chart also forces them to work their way up.

Whether Yates is proving his mettle is yet to be determined. Only one preseason game has been played. Against Arizona, Yates recorded three tackles on defense and Davis two. On special teams, Davis added another tackle while Yates had none. The season opener against Dallas is still almost a month away, but this is one of the most curious battles of the preseason. Who will back up E.J. Henderson?

"I'm playing well with the [second] team and I'm getting to know them," Yates said. "I'm having a decent camp. I'd like it to go better. There is always room for improvement, but there are some things I've improved on from last year."

Yates says he refuses to get complacent at camp, although a self-evaluation indicates his stock is (what else?) rising.

"I definitely have gotten better since last year's training camp," he said. "We still have a few weeks left and there are some things I want to improve on. I'm far from satisfied."

Davis might be carrying a bigger chip on his shoulder. Davis slipped all the way to the fifth round on draft weekend after hearing whispers he could go in the third round.

"I thought maybe worst case scenario I would go in the third round," Davis said after the draft. "But I've just got to take it as a blessing because a lot of people don't have the opportunity to play NFL football."

Coaches hope Davis' disappointment and Yates' determination will create a solid battle for being Henderson's understudy.

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