Erin Henderson is returning to a familiar position. He’d rather resume playing middle linebacker, but his move this week to weakside linebacker is another opportunity for him to get back in the starting lineup after missing the last two games.
Henderson missed the Vikings’ Nov. 24 game after being arrested for probable cause driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance on Nov. 19. He spent most the week before the Packers game away from the team facility, saying he had to take care of himself first and make some changes and calling the incident a “wake-up call.”
Meanwhile, the Vikings were forced to make a change on the field. They started Audie Cole in place of Henderson at middle linebacker and have decided to stick with Cole in that position for a third straight week, a decision that was announced Wednesday and allows Cole to know his role as the Vikings install their game plan for the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday.
“You get to prepare. When you don’t really know what you’re going to be doing, you can’t really prepare as well,” Cole said. “Knowing what you’re going into, you get ready for the game, that’s all you’ve got to focus on.”
Cole has performed well in his two starts, combining for 27 tackles, including two for losses, one sack and five quarterback hurries.
“The first thing I told Audie when it all happened, I sent him a text message, I said take advantage of the opportunity. I’m behind you. I’m rooting for you. I’m pulling for you. I want to see you do well,” Henderson said. “Audie’s a good kid. I’ve enjoyed him since the first day he came in here. I’m still pulling for him. Anything I can do to help him, I’m here for him and I think he understands that and I look forward to seeing what he does for the rest of it.”
Henderson was dressed and on the sidelines last Sunday, but he will return to the starting lineup against Baltimore as the weakside linebacker, a position he patrolled over the three previous seasons before making the switch to middle linebacker this year.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to get back out there. Missed the past couple of weeks,” Henderson said. “… Just anxious to get back out there on the field, be out there with my guys. Looking forward to any role where I can contribute.”
Throughout the offseason, Henderson was adamant that he wanted the middle linebacker position, despite speculation that the Vikings were looking on both the free-agent market and in the draft for potential help there. Even now, he makes no bones about the fact that he wants to be the middle linebacker.
“I still want to play that (middle) position. I think I was doing a pretty good job at it. I think I was coming into my own, the defense and all the guys were starting to rally around,” he said. “Unfortunately, incidents happen and the next guy up. I gotta go out there and do my part to help the team.”
One of the reasons he wanted the position so badly is so that he could remain on the field full-time. The weakside linebacker is the first player off the field when the Vikings go to their nickel defense, and Henderson believes that will continue to be the case when he is at weakside linebacker this Sunday.
He said he won’t stop being vocal, an attribute usually relegated for the middle linebacker spot.
“I can’t shut up. I try to. It’s hard for me to do. I think you guys probably saw me on the sidelines even a little bit this weekend. I wasn’t playing, but I was still very active and talking to the guys, keeping my teammates up and into the game and telling them to go out there and just keep fighting and I’ll be the same way,” Henderson said. “I’ll have some more chances to do it now, not playing all that time. So I’ll maybe even be louder.”
During his two games away from the action, Henderson lost his team lead for tackles – the team now credits Chad Greenway with 129 and Henderson with 125 – but he’s happy to at least get a chance get back out on the field.
“It’s a huge thing for me. I didn’t really know how it was going to play out or what was going to happen once everything came out and happened the way it did,” Henderson said. “It’s another chance, another opportunity. If you guys know anything about me, you know that I try to make the most out of every one and seize it, and this is not going to be any different.
“I played that position for two years and I think I was pretty successful at it. I look forward to embracing it again.”
Leslie Frazier said he talked with CB Chris Cook Wednesday morning about contacting an official during the Bears game and being ejected.
“I have talked to Chris. We had a good conversation. He knows he’s going to get hit pretty heavy in the pocket,” Frazier said. “He just has to be able to keep his composure going forward and handle things the right way. There are going to be negative things that happen on the field and he has to handle it the right way.”
Vikings players named Kevin Williams the Ed Block Courage Award winner for the team. Williams, the longest tenured Viking at 167 games played, said he tries to teach younger players to do things the right way.
“It’s so easy to do the wrong things and not do what you’re supposed to,” he said. “When you’re on time, that’s a start. When you’re in your right gap, doing your right responsibilities, that’s easy. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to be in the right spot. Now, executing and all that, that’s when your talent comes in. But you’ve got to do your studying, be on time and do things the right way and a lot of people will notice it. People will notice it around you and say, ‘Hey, this is a guy I want to watch or I want to be like.’ It will carry over to the other guys.”
The Vikings gave Adrian Peterson (groin) another day off after carrying the ball a career-record 35 times. QB Christian Ponder (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (chest), S Jamarca Sanford (ankle), LB Larry Dean, TE Kyle Rudolph (foot) and LB Larry Dean (knee) also didn’t practice Wednesday.
DE Jared Allen (finger) and LB Chad Greenway (wrist) were limited. RB Matt Asiata (shoulder), DT Fred Evans (knee), DE Everson Griffen (toe) and S Andrew Sendejo (toe) were full participants.
For the Ravens, LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle) and S Brynden Trawick (ankle) didn’t practice. DE Chris Canty (shoulder), CBs Asa Jackson (thigh), Jimmy Smith (concussion) and Ladarius Webb (abdomen), and WR Brandon Stokley (knee) were limited.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.