"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