Henderson Strong on the Weak Side

Even without Chad Greenway's season-ending knee injury Monday, E.J. Henderson didn't show any signs of giving up his starting spot on the weak side.

Weakside linebacker E.J. Henderson has stood out in training camp practices and appears ready to emerge as one of the Vikings' top players on the defensive side of the ball.

This should come as no surprise considering new defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin spent the past five seasons working as the defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay.

Tomlin, who is installing a Buccaneers-style Cover-2 defense in Minnesota, watched Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks make life miserable for opposing offenses. Tomlin appears to be putting Henderson in a similar position to succeed.

Last week, Henderson intercepted passes by Brad Johnson on back-to-back days during practice. He also has been all over the field, delivering some impressive hits during "live" periods.

Henderson was moved to the weak side last season by former coach Mike Tice after struggling at middle linebacker in 2004. Henderson often found himself out of position in the middle and struggled with being the "quarterback" of the defense.

"I feel like I've got a fresh start," said Henderson, who won the 2002 Butkus Award as the nation's top collegiate linebacker while playing for Maryland. "I'm not really looking to wipe out all the years I've been here, because there have been some good years. I've played with some good players and good coaches. I have some good memories along with some bad memories."

Henderson, like several of his teammates, spent the off-season dropping weight and getting in condition to play in the new system. Henderson, who was never overweight, lost 10 pounds.

Despite his struggles in the middle, there has been some thought Henderson might end up back at that spot if Napoleon Harris fails in his quest to win that job. That reasoning seemed to go out the window on Monday when first-round pick Chad Greenway, who was backing up Henderson on the weak side, was lost for the season with a left knee injury.

Even before Greenway's injury, it was looking like Henderson was set to stay on the weak side.

"I'm not sure you use (Henderson's) skills as well in the middle of everything," coach Brad Childress said. "I think his (skills) from the 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."

CAMP CALENDAR: The Vikings will break camp on Friday, returning to their Winter Park facility in Eden Prairie.

NOTES

  • Longtime Vikings pro scout Paul Wiggin was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last Saturday. Wiggin played defensive tackle at Stanford from 1954-56 and was among 20 inductees.

  • Left tackle Bryant McKinnie has been experimenting with ways to protect the fractured middle finger on his left hand. He suffered the injury last week after getting his finger stuck awkwardly in a teammate's jersey during practice. McKinnie was wearing a club-like wrap in Monday's game.

  • Veteran guard Artis Hicks on moving to the right side of the offensive line for the first time since his sophomore season in college. "The closest thing that I would compare it to is being right-handed and writing with your left hand," Hicks said. "The last four years I've been learning how to step with my left foot first and make sure my left hand is outside. Now it's the opposite. Your body is telling you, ‘Hey, this doesn't feel right, do it the other way.' But mentally you've just got to keep fighting it and re-train yourself."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can work the rest of your life. You don't get football back." — QB Brad Johnson when asked if he was impressed that restaurant owner and Harvard graduate Matt Birk decided to continue playing football after sitting out 2005 because of injury.

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