Linebacker E.J. Henderson had never played on the weak side in his career before last week, but that's exactly where the third-year player from Maryland found himself after the coaching staff decided his training-camp performance warranted a promotion to the first team.
Henderson, who lost his job as the starting middle linebacker this offseason when Sam Cowart was acquired from the New York Jets, had started camp playing the middle with the second unit.
It was clear early on that Henderson was one of the Vikings' three best linebackers in camp and the coaching staff has vowed to get the top trio out there regardless of past experience at any certain spot. As a result, Dontarrious Thomas was moved to second team on the weak side and Rod Davis bumped up from the third team to play the middle.
"We'll see how (Henderson) adapts, and if he does a good job at the Will linebacker position, we'll keep him there," defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said. "But we're trying to find him a spot because he's having a good, strong camp and we're very pleased with the way Sam Cowart is playing. So we're trying to get a spot where E.J. will be a little bit more available to us out on the field and give him some opportunities for some more snaps."
Henderson started last Friday's preseason victory over Kansas City, playing alongside Cowart and strong-side linebacker Napoleon Harris. Henderson is expected to remain in that role for Friday night's game against the Jets.
"I just have to adjust to walking out to that slot receiver and playing the run and the pass," Henderson said of getting used to his new spot.
Henderson's success in camp is a testament to working hard and not pouting when things don't go right.
Cowart was acquired as part of the Vikings' offseason makeover on defense because the team felt it needed a veteran leader in the middle. Henderson started 16 games, including playoffs, at the position but frequently found himself out of position and struggled to get the other linebackers lined up.
When the 30-year-old Cowart was obtained, Henderson took it as a challenge; he spent the offseason working hard and saw Cowart's presence as a way to learn from a veteran.
Cowart is playing on a one-year contract so there is a chance that if Henderson proves himself at the weak side this season, he could find himself back in the middle in 2006.
Henderson Adapting To New Position
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