David Herron isn't a player that most casual Vikings fans are that familiar with. Known primarily as a special teams player, Herron will likely find himself center stage under the brightest of lights as he goes from understudy to headliner Monday, replacing E.J. Henderson at middle linebacker.
The second-year linebacker got his first start last week against the Titans, but that was the result of a brief disciplinary benching of Henderson by head coach Brad Childress. While the official stats list last week's game as his first career start, he is looking to Monday's game as his coming-out party with Henderson expected to be sidelined with two dislocated toes. Henderson is listed as doubtful and didn't practice all week.
"It's every football player's dream to get to the NFL," Herron said. "To start on Monday Night Football is even more special. I don't know what (Henderson's) status is, but I'm preparing like I'll be starting."
Herron's road to the spotlight didn't take the road most traveled. He wasn't even a full-time linebacker until he went to Michigan State University. He was a highly recruited player, but the college scouts weren't looking for a middle linebacker. They wanted Herron to play on the offensive side of the ball.
"I was a fullback in high school," said Herron, who was a blocking back for enigmatic running back Maurice Clarett at Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio. "When I got to Michigan State, the coaches there felt that I could contribute more as a linebacker. They moved me to linebacker as a redshirt (freshman). I ended up starting there for three years and worked to get better.
Even in the NFL, his career hasn't taken the traditional route. He was signed to the Vikings practice squad, but got caught in the middle of a dispute between the Vikings and the Patriots that had him shuffling. Patriots coach Bill Belichick had called several other coaches, including the Vikings' Brad Childress, asking them not to claim tight end Garrett Mills. The Vikings liked what they saw in Mills and signed him, which many believe prompted Belichick to claim Herron as retribution.
He spent just one week with the Patriots, who released him after the first game. He was signed to the Vikings practice squad, where he spent 11 weeks before being activated for another prime-time game – a Sunday night game against the Redskins.
During that time, Herron has worked out at middle linebacker and both outside LB positions. For a team that stresses position flexibility, although he hasn't played a lot in regular-season games, Herron has picked a wealth of experience that he hopes will help him against the Saints wide-open offense.
"That's one thing that the coaches have stressed – having all of us learn all three positions," Herron said. "I feel comfortable wherever they put me, but middle linebacker is my most natural fit because that is where I had most of my experience in college."
Herron said he's trying not to get overly excited about the challenge he has waited 20 games to experience, but knows that when the adrenaline kicks in at kickoff, he is going to be jacked up. However, he is spending the rest of the prelude to the show doing his homework in preparation for his opening night.
"You ramp it up a little bit more if you know there's a chance you'll be starting," Herron said. "This week I've been watching more film and paying more attention to tendencies of teams and have to be ready for whatever they throw at you."
The Saints will pose a big test for Herron and the rest of the Vikings defenders. The Saints have been a pass-happy team all season and, despite missing key component parts in wide receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey, Herron knows the M.O. of the Saints – take shots deep down the field to every skill position player on the roster.
"They like going for the big plays," Herron said. "That's what they do. They have been able to make a lot of big plays, but we're a big-play defense and if they take the risks at taking shots at us, we'll be ready for them."
While the Vikings are hoping for Henderson to return as soon as possible, Herron knows this is his chance to make a statement much like Artis Hicks did when Bryant McKinnie was out of the lineup – make an impression when the opportunity comes.
"I've been preparing two years for this," Herron said. "If it works out that I end up starting, it's up to me to show the coaches and my teammates what I've learned and that I'm up to the challenge. I'm going to give everything I've got. I better play well, because I know that everybody will be watching."
Herron hoping for big night
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