Henderson returns with big goals

Linebacker E.J. Henderson is looking forward to a big season after spending the last 12 games of the 2008 regular season on injured reserve. He's bringing his renewed passion for the game into the huddle as well. See what Henderson had to say about his return and get notes from Saturday's morning practice session.

E.J. Henderson is back in the middle of the Vikings defense, vocal as ever and proclaiming a lofty goal.

"Our goal is to be the No. 1 defense and my personal goal is to lead the No. 1 defense," he said. "We've got a (ways) to go. Last year we were five or six (overall) and we want to be No. 1 overall."

Henderson found out last year how big a part football played in his life when he was forced to miss 12 games with two dislocated toes – the big toe requiring surgery to repair a torn ligament.

"Twelve games, that was a lot. You realize how much football is a part of your life even though you've got other things going on with your family and friends," he said.

Maybe that's why the usually quiet and reserved – although extremely talented and determined – Henderson felt a need to make his desires known in the opening practice of training camp.

"He brought the whole defense together and talked to them about what he sees in every guy. He really challenges them to work hard every day and have a championship attitude," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "You could hear a pin drop in our huddle, with Jared (Allen) and Pat (Williams), that isn't always the case. When E.J. is there it's a different deal. He commands so much respect. He raises everyone else's level of play because he is a splash-play type of guy. He makes a lot of big plays for our defense. To have him back, it should help our entire defense, not just our linebacker corps."

Through three practices, the Vikings haven't been able to put on pads, which is when Henderson's smash-mouth style really excels. He was looking forward to the full pads going on for the Saturday evening practice in Blakeslee Stadium at Minnesota State, Mankato.

"I think it's a little quiet (in camp so far), but you can't be coming up full speed, 100 percent, tackling people, taking them to the ground because that's how injuries happen. Nobody's getting tackled on purpose. That's the reason for the quietness," he said. "I think tonight, it might liven up a little bit with the full pads, do a little more one-on-ones with the running backs. I think tonight we might do a little more scrimmaging."

It's unclear yet if the pads will go on tonight, but it's obvious that Henderson was looking forward to the possibility. He's spent all offseason anticipating a time that he could return to that point.

"I was playing pretty good (before the injury). The defense was playing lights-out those first four games. That made it tougher going down," he said.

"The mental obstacle on those injuries is just take your time on that. It was just a matter of realizing that my toe was OK, there was going to be some soreness and to work through that."

But he wants everyone to know he's tired of talking about the injury and is looking forward, hoping for an even better defense this year. Frazier isn't as concerned with a No. 1 defensive ranking. He just wants a No. 1 team.

"I feel the pieces are in place for us to have a great defense. The No. 1 ranking (on defense) I'm not as worried as (players) might be," he said. "I really want us to have a great year on defense and help our team win a championship."

SATURDAY MORNING PRACTICE NOTES

  • More than half of the first-round picks are now under contract. Vikings WR Percy Harvin is not. Only three of the final 12 picks in the first round are unsigned.

  • Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels continued to take turns splitting the first-team reps during different portions of practices until Jackson suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament.

  • Entering his fourth season in the offense, Jackson had been looking more comfortable than Rosenfels, but now Rosenfels and John David Booty likely will get elevated reps in practice over the next few days.

  • Jackson actually had a close call during the morning practice before he suffered his injury when RB Albert Young was blocked into Jackson just after the quarterback had released a completion to TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

  • Otis Grigsby had a touch sack on Jackson on the play before he was injured.

  • Fifth-round draft pick Jasper Brinkley, a large linebacker competing for the backup spot behind E.J. Henderson, has earned the nickname "Baby Elephant." He lived up to that nickname on one play when he decleated Aundrae Allison after a reception from Jackson.

  • LB Chad Greenway isn't afraid to give a teammate a hard time. He had a verbal jab for RB Adrian Peterson after he dropped a pass from Rosenfels.

  • CB Marcus McCauley, battling for a job in the nickel defense, had a nice pass defensed on a pass from Rosenfels to Sidney Rice. Rice nearly made the reception, but McCauley battled for the ball in the air and it came loose before Rice had control.

  • Jackson likely would have thrown an interception if the team had been in full pads. During full-team work, he threw a soft checkdown pass for RB Albert Young that CB Asher Allen appeared to have in his sights before pulling up to avoid contact. Allen received congratulations from position coach Joe Woods for his astute play.

  • Jared Allen had a touch sack of Booty in his final session, and CB Karl Paymah earned a pass defensed on a Booty throw to Rice in that final series as well.

  • WR Bobby Williams did not practice after leaving the field during Friday's morning practice.


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