One of the biggest questions at linebacker was E.J. Henderson's ability to take control of the huddle. So far, there are encouraging signs.
A smile came to the face of new Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier as he watched E.J. Henderson
during a recent practice. It wasn't that Henderson had made a great play but rather his actions afterward.
"He grabbed the entire defense and said a few words to them," Frazier explained. "We were all looking for him to do that at some point, just take control and he did that."
The Vikings are counting on Henderson to become an on-the-field leader now that he is moving from the weak side to middle linebacker.
Not very vocal by nature, Henderson struggled in this area the last time he played middle linebacker during the 2004 season. The next year he was shifted to the outside and remained there through last season.
Henderson, who is entering his fifth season, certainly didn't disappoint in 2006. Playing in the Tampa-2 scheme for the first time, he had a team-leading and career-high 142 tackles and also added career-highs in sacks (three) and interceptions (two). He received a five-year, $25 million contract extension late in the year.
Despite the success, Henderson considered himself a middle linebacker and wanted to return to that spot. The opportunity presented itself when Napoleon Harris
signed a free-agent deal with Kansas City during the offseason.
The Vikings had the ability to shift Henderson because 2006 first-round pick Chad Greenway
was ready to return after missing his rookie year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Greenway will start on the weak side. Frazier, meanwhile, said Henderson "is really coming into his own" as a leader of the linebacker corps.
As for his ability to play the middle in this scheme — the Tampa-2 requires the middle linebacker to often drop into coverage — Henderson certainly has the speed to keep up.
"I'm pretty comfortable right now," he said. "But I think it's going to take a game to see the speed of it. Even a regular-season game, to see the regular-season speed of it. To see how I have to do it."
Said Frazier: "I think every day he gets a little more comfortable at that position."
CAMP CALENDAR: The Vikings' final day of practice in Mankato will be on Aug. 16. The team will spend the remainder of training camp working at their practice facility in Eden Prairie, Minn.
RB Adrian Peterson and Chiefs RB Priest Holmes, who is attempting a comeback from a neck injury, had a discussion after the second practice. Holmes talked to Peterson about playing through pain.
Referee Bill Carollo and some of his officiating crew were in Mankato last week to address the Vikings players and also to observe practices and flag any possible infractions. "It's just good for them to explain and teach and talk," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "There have been no rule changes really, but I just encourage our guys to interact."
Last Wednesday marked the final day of camp the Vikings will be in pads for both the morning and afternoon session. The remainder of the afternoon practices are either for special teams or 45-minute workouts that will be conducted in shorts.
DT Alex Guerrero, who is battling for a spot at defensive tackle, did not hurt his cause when he jumped to tip a ball thrown by quarterback Drew Henson during a team drill and then completed the play by intercepting the pass. It was a pretty athletic play considering Guerrero is listed at 6-1 and Henson is 6-4.
Several players have been getting looks on kickoff returns. Receiver Bobby Wade appears to be the front-runner to win the job. Other candidates include Troy Williamson, Aundrae Allison and Chandler Williams. Mewelde Moore appears to be in line to continue as the punt returner.
Wide receiver Troy Williamson spent countless hours this offseason working on his pass catching and even has been doing exercises to help improve his vision. Nonetheless, Williamson has still averaged about one drop per practice. The one thing the Vikings have been doing, however, is making sure Williamson gets a pass thrown his way almost immediately after he fails to catch a ball.
A shoulder injury suffered by safety Darren Sharper enabled veteran free-agent Mike Doss and Tank Williams to get extensive reps with the first team. Sharper missed a few days after hurting his shoulder in a collision with fullback Tony Richardson.
Doss had his 2006 season ended because of a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. The coaching staff is pleased with his progress and he appears in the mix for a backup spot. Sharper has since returned.
NT Howard Green has been getting some reps with the first team in place of Pat Williams. Nothing is wrong with Williams, but the Vikings already know what they have in the veteran. The key is finding out what Green can do. Green received almost all the time at nose tackle in last weekend's two practices with Kansas City.
DT Spencer Johnson received reps with the first-team defense in the Chiefs practices as Kevin Williams did conditioning work on the side, along with Pat Williams and CB Antoine Winfeld. Third-round corner Marcus McCauley replaced Winfield, who like both Williams is perfectly healthy.
LB Dontarrious Thomas, who is subbing for Ben Leber at the strong-side spot, once again will be the primary backup for all three linebackers.
DE Erasmus James (knee) remains on the physically unable to perform list. With James out, Ray Edwards has been getting most of the work with the first team at right end.
CB Ronyell Whitaker, who began last season serving as the nickel back but quickly lost the job, suffered a sprained ankle last Thursday in practice. Whitaker was not hit on the play but rather fell to the ground after twisting his ankle.
RB Arkee Whitlock was released after the Vikings signed first-round pick Adrian Peterson.