Henderson Could Live Up to New Buzzphrase

Linebacker E.J. Henderson might have to live up to the buzzphrase of draft weekend, position flexibility, after the team drafted Chad Greenway last Saturday. See what Henderson had to say about the new defense and how it is affecting linebackers.

E.J. Henderson maintained for most of his first three years with the Vikings that he wanted to play middle linebacker.

He was drafted as a middle linebacker in 2003 and began his first practice in that spot until the Vikings determined it to be too overwhelming for a rookie and brought in Greg Beikert before the start of the season. In 2004, Henderson became a starter at middle linebacker, but in 2005 the Vikings acquired Sam Cowart for that role and Henderson moved to the weak side.

That was the plan for Henderson again in 2006, but that could change with the drafting of Iowa's Chad Greenway in the first round. Greenway is generally considered a weakside linebacker, but even that could change in this defense.

"This defense is kind of different because it's an over defense. The Will (weakside) might have the easiest position. He's protected by the big guys up front," Henderson said at the Vikings' minicamp last month. "The Mike has to be a little more agile because he has to get deep. The Sam (strongside) is more stout, because he has to be on the line. Anywhere you go, you should have fun in this defense."

Derrick Brooks has made a Pro Bowl career out of playing the weak side in this defense with Tampa Bay, but Henderson said the middle linebacker is important as well.

"Like you said, (the weakside linebacker is) the highlight reel, but they had to put Shelton Quarles in the middle and he had some highlights too," Henderson said. "I think any position you play in this defense, you can really succeed."

One reason for that is the simplicity of the defense. To a man, each of the players Viking Update talked at minicamp last month said the defense is based more on precision instead of creating confusion. That's also true when defending the pass, according to Henderson.

"I think it's a lot easier instead of trying to look at the receiver and try to figure out what route he's going to run. In this defense, they just want us to break off the quarterback. That Mike (middle) linebacker in the Cover-2 has got to get deep," he said.

It's undetermined at this point who that middle linebacker will be once training camp or the preseason roles around. Henderson could make a move back to the middle if Greenway impresses at weakside linebacker in next weekend's minicamp. In that case, Henderson likely would be competing with Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris for the starting role.

In the first minicamp, coaches put the linebackers to the test in learning multiple positions.

"Everybody is moving everywhere," Henderson said.

Eventually, however, the coaching staff will settle in on a rotation they like and the players will be expected to know the ins and outs of this new Tampa-2 defense.

"You keep the basics of football, route concepts – that'll be wherever you go, whatever defense you're in," Henderson said. "There are new rules; the pass coverages are a little different. It's a lot simpler right now even though we've put in different things. Right now we're trying to get the basics down until we get to the details of it."

Henderson expects it remain simple, even his position does end up changing with the drafting of Greenway.

"There are some basic concepts and we'll just add a couple of things, add some more dog (linebacker blitzes). Fundamentals are the big thing," he said.

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