Erin Henderson (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Erin Henderson is ready to fight for the right to start at middle linebacker, but what if he loses that battle to Desmond Bishop and rookie Gerald Hodges impresses at weakside linebacker? Henderson is in a precarious position he didn’t create.
Some call it “the elephant in the room” – something so obvious, yet nobody dares discuss it. When it comes to the Vikings linebacker situation, the elephant has yet announce itself.
The last time the Vikings had stability at the linebacker position was when Chad Greenway was the young pup of the crew, lining up alongside E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber. In 2011, Leber was gone and Erin Henderson replaced him. In 2012, E.J. was gone and Jasper Brinkley replaced him. In 2013, Brinkley left and his starting job – after free agency and the draft – remains in the TBA category. Move over, Dumbo needs to freshen his drink.
The original plan was to have an old-school full-fledged tryout for two of the three starting jobs – Greenway is set at his spot. The signing of Desmond Bishop has thrown the entire process into question – if not potential chaos.
When the Vikings decided to re-sign Henderson and not Brinkley, they created a void back in March. The original company line was that Henderson has the skill to play middle linebacker, but has experience at outside linebacker that would be invaluable if the situation arose where he had to return there.
That potential situation arose when the Packers opted to release Desmond Bishop. The timing seemed peculiar because, with no offense intended toward either fourth-round OLB Gerald Hodges or injured seventh-round MLB Mike Mauti, neither was drafted with the Week 1 intent of starting. They would effectively be, in Hodges case Plan B, and, in Mauti’s case, even further down the line because of a rehabilitating knee. Suddenly, a six-year veteran with middle linebacker experience becomes available in Bishop and the Vikings jumped.
Somewhere, Sage Rosenfels is saying, “Been there, seen that.”
The immediate reaction from Henderson was understandable. He was re-signed with the de facto promise of having a starting job – either at his incumbent weakside linebacker position or as a frontrunner to take over the vacant middle linebacker spot. Now, Henderson finds himself in a bizarre sort of limbo.
Remember the Everson Griffen Experiment last year? It failed quickly as the defensive end was trying to make the switch to linebacker. The balloon was unceremoniously popped and he went back to working out with the defensive ends.
The Bishop signing gives the Vikings more options, but, in the end, it could be the defining moment of Henderson’s career. He has basically been devoting his offseason to preparing to be the middle linebacker. Even after word surfaced that the Vikings were interested in Bishop, Henderson was quick to point out that he wasn’t giving up the middle linebacker position without a fight.
Every year, there are a handful of players that get the “Wow!” factor with the crowd. Training camp buzz is the life blood of the NFL. As a rookie, Chris Cook made plays that raised eyebrows. Husain Abdullah made the squad for that “did you see that?” play at training camp. What happens if two of the “buzz names” in Mankato are Bishop and Hodges?
If Henderson is willing to fight for the middle linebacker spot with Bishop, may the best man win. If, however, he is kept at middle linebacker and Hodges opens the eyes of the coaching staff (clearly general manager Rick Spielman is in his corner), Henderson’s backup plan may be gone without him even fighting for the chance to keep his old position.
It would appear Henderson has a difficult choice he didn’t envision when he re-signed with the Vikings. Do you fight against a guy with experience at the position you’re moving to or do you try to fight off a battle from a hungry mid-round rookie who plays your position?
In the end, the decision Henderson makes could be the tipping point of his career. He could end up as the Vikings starting middle linebacker. He could end up the starting weakside linebacker. The longshot is that he could end up neither. He is in a situation he didn’t create. It was created for him and clouded up without his approval. Now it’s up to him. If there is one player to keep an eye in training camp, it may well be Erin Henderson.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.