The Vikings continued their physical brand of training camp Tuesday morning and no one was more visible than linebacker E.J. Henderson. See what head coach Brad Childress had to say about Henderson's performance and prospects, and get notes galore from Tuesday's workout.
In a Tuesday morning session that featured several big hits, linebacker E.J. Henderson
was carrying the biggest stick.
On the first play where the offense faced the defense on the practice fields, Henderson came on a blitz and batted down a pass shortly after it left Brad Johnson
's hand. Not too much after the team had moved to the adjacent Blakeslee Stadium, Henderson came on another blitz and sacked Johnson.
"He's been an active guy this camp, without a doubt," head coach Brad Childress said. "He's probably as good a key-and-diagnose linebacker as we have. He shows up at the football and he doesn't take a lot of time to get there. He's down in weight so he's moving fast and he's got good strike ability. He's playing good football right now."
The coaches asked all of the linebackers to lose weight in order to play more effectively in this defense, where they are required to have good coverage skills.
But it wasn't on blitzes Tuesday that Henderson made his biggest impact – literally.
With the first-team defense going against the second-team offense, running back Mewelde Moore
caught a pass, turned upfield and was trying to shake loose from one would-be tackler when Henderson knocked Moore backwards and to the ground – a decleater in John Madden parlance.
After Moore took a sideline shot from cornerback Fred Smoot
on the next play, Henderson was back at it. This time, Moore took a handoff and was trying to reach the line of scrimmage when Henderson blasted him again.
Henderson has been playing weakside linebacker for the past year, and he is likely to stay in that position. However, Henderson has typically been more interested in playing middle linebacker. Under the Tampa-2 defense, though, he has a chance to put up big numbers on the weak side.
"I'm definitely excited. That's what I've been playing since we came together at minicamps and I would be glad to stay there," Henderson said of the weak side. "However the coaches feel (is) the best-three combination, the best three backers to get in there and get it done, I'm willing to mix and match. Whatever is best."
In Childress's estimation, Henderson's skill set fits the weakside role best in this Tampa-2 defense.
"I'm not sure that you use his skills as well in the middle of everything," Childress said. "I think his key-and-diagnose from where he is at as a Will linebacker allows him to be able to play his technique running to the football. He's good at the point of attack and he makes as many plays away from the formation, away from where the ball is going, as anybody. He has the ability and he has the knowledge to be able to play in there, but with his particular skill set, I'd be hesitant to move him anywhere. Could he play in there? Yeah, he could play in there if he had to."
For the foreseeable future, it seems that Henderson is able to thrive on the weakside, where he protected a little more and can flow the ball.
Defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were back on the practice field working together for the first time since training camp started. Pat, the nose tackle, was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Monday, but Kevin was sidelined with what was being termed a chronic knee problem. He returned on Tuesday.
Darren Sharper sat out much of practice with what Childress called hamstring spasms. Willie Offord saw a lot of time with Dwight Smith in the first-team defense, as Tank Williams was placed on injured reserve on Monday. Williams was seeing noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., Tuesday.
Offord and Greg Blue saw most of the action with the second-team defense.
Wide receiver Billy McMullen is seeing some action with the first-team offense in certain personnel groupings. He had one 25-yard reception from the hand of Brad Johnson.
On the first play inside Blakeslee Stadium, running back Chester Taylor caught a 20-yard pass from Brad Johnson, but on the next play Taylor was leveled, leaving an assistant coach to call out "mouthpiece."
Chad Greenway continues to be with the second-team base defense, but he is also seeing action with the first-team defense in their "big" package, a grouping in which they use four linebackers.
Mike McMahon had a rough start to his full-team action, taking sacks by Pat Williams and Kenechi Udeze on consecutive plays. Later, Dwight Smith came in for another sack of McMahon.
Erasmus James also had a sack of O'Sullivan.
On the first play of goal-line action, Dontarrious Thomas, playing with the second-team defense, intercepted a Brad Johnson pass in the end zone. On the next play, Johnson found Jermaine Wiggins for a touchdown following a playfake.
An interesting formation on the goal-line defense featured six defensive linemen, four linebackers and one defensive back. Udeze, Darrion Scott, Pat Williams, Ross Kolodziej, Kevin Williams and Erasmus James were among the defensive linemen rotating in that scheme with the first team, with Dwight Smith being used as the defensive back.
Another grouping used with the second-team defense featured five defensive linemen, five linebackers and a defensive back. In that formation, Cedric Griffin was the defensive back with the second team.
Rookie cornerback Charles Gordon was back in Mankato Tuesday on crutches, saying he would only be out a couple of weeks after having surgery Monday to repair some damaged cartilage in his left knee. Childress said Gordon could be out three to four weeks.
Kicker Ryan Longwell looked good in making six field goals from 25 to 40 yards out. On one attempt, holder Chris Kluwe saved the attempt by handling a snap in the grass and still placing it for Longwell.
A sign that the safeties are indeed rotating between strong and free in Mike Tomlin's defense: Before one series, defensive backs coach Joe Woods told safety Greg Blue, "Whatever you played last time, play the opposite."
Blue had a solid outing Tuesday, making several big hits and staying deep with Troy Williamson in coverage one time. After one of Blue's big hits, cornerback Fred Smoot yelled out, "You're my boy, Blue" in reference to the movie "Old School."
Cornerback Dustin Fox continues to see most of his action with the second-team defense, although he is getting some reps with the second team.
Receiver Chris Jones continued a solid camp with another impressive reception in traffic.
Before Moore took his pounding from Henderson, he started out the second-team offense with an 18-yard run.
Chester Taylor had consecutive long gains, catching a 21-yard pass play from Brad Johnson in which Taylor broke a number of tackles. On the next play, he nearly broke a long run for a touchdown, getting tripped up after a 22-yard gain. The first-team offensive line was opening some good-sized holes against the second-team defense.
Shortly after Taylor's two runs, linebackers coach Fred Pagac implored the defense to come to life. "It sounds like a pillow fight over there," he yelled.
Rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had several nice passes, hitting tight end Jeff Dugan for 16 yards, Billy McMullen for 12 yards and Dugan again for 18 yards in one series.
Tight end Richard Angulo and defensive end Jayme Mitchell are getting used to each other, up close and personal. Tuesday morning, they were busy exchanging body blows after one play had ended.