As Erin Henderson's solid preseason took off, he said the goal all along was to make the active roster, a strong accomplishment for an undrafted rookie. Saturday, that goal became a reality.
"The goal from the beginning was to be on that 53-man roster," Henderson said halfway through his preseason. "I think I have a pretty good shot at making it if I just continue to work hard and continue to do what the coaches ask me to do. We have a great coaching staff here that's been trying to help me progress as a ballplayer here. Mentally and physically, Coach Pug (linebackers coach Fred Pagac) does a great job of working with me."
Henderson was among three undrafted rookies this offseason to make the initial 53-man roster, joining safety Husain Abdullah and offensive lineman Drew Radovich.
Henderson said he had been playing more strongside linebacker after Heath Farwell was lost for the season with a knee injury in the preseason opener. Before that, Henderson was practicing mostly on the weak side and had also received some early practice reps at middle linebacker. That versatility will come in handy, as backup linebackers are often asked to learn more than one spot within their unit.
"They are kind of similar. Different responsibilities at times, but each of them has their different phases that you have to really, really focus in on. If you play the Sam, you're in man coverage playing on that tight end – that's something new for me, something I never did before, so that's something I've got to focus and really think about," Henderson said. "Playing the Will, you're on the bubble. I was never a bubble back – I was always covered up in college, so now those guards can get up on you quick and you've got to take on blockers. Each of (the positions) has their own little thing."
Head coach Brad Childress said Henderson is smart enough to handle "bouncing around" the linebacker corps, but Henderson said the coverage responsibilities are different for him with the Vikings than they were in college at Maryland.
"I didn't have to walk down on the tight ends. Now, if we're in man, I've got to actually go up on the line and jam him, which is not something I was used to doing in college," he said. "It was more of a route-progression thing, for one, and then I was usually in the seam somewhere. I was never really on the tight end."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said last week that Henderson has been better than anticipated for an undrafted rookie.
"Probably above expectations coming in as a free agent. It's hard for a (rookie) free agent to make your ball club," Frazier said. "He's fighting for a roster spot. … But he's really performed at a high level for a guy that comes in as a free agent. We felt like he had some ability – it was just a matter of how he would assimilate into the professional level and he's done well. It has not been too big for him."
Of course, backup linebackers are often asked to contribute on special teams and Henderson spent time during the preseason helping cover kickoffs and punts as well.
"Now I just have to go out there and show them that's where I belong and go out there and make the best of my opportunities," he said.
He's did that and it paid off with his spot on the 53-man roster.
Erin Henderson, You Made the Team
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