With Napoleon Harris
having signed with the Kansas City Chiefs
as a free agent, E.J. Henderson
will be shifted back to middle linebacker following a two-year stint on the weak side.
Vikings coach Brad Childress revealed his plan during the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. The decision means first-round pick Chad Greenway
will be given the opportunity to move into the starting role on the weak side and Ben Leber
will remain on the strong side.
Greenway missed all of his rookie season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Vikings' opening preseason game last summer against Oakland.
Henderson was the logical choice to move to the middle. He was a two-time All-America selection at that position while playing at Maryland
and also earned the Butkus Award.
A second-round draft choice by the Vikings in 2003, he started 16 games (including two in the playoffs) the following season at middle linebacker and led the team with 125 tackles.
However, he often struggled with his assignments and was replaced by veteran Sam Cowart
in 2005. Dontarrious Thomas
entered training camp that summer as the starting weak-side linebacker but Henderson quickly won the job.
He had 102 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery that season. Last year, Henderson recorded a team-leading 109 tackles with three sacks and two fumble recoveries.
The Vikings rewarded Henderson with a five-year contract extension in December that is worth $25 million. That essentially closed the door on bringing back Harris.
"(Henderson) has the greatest seed to (play the middle) right now," Childress said. "So we'll probably start with him on the inside and create a spot for Greenway."
The Tampa-2 scheme employed by the Vikings defense calls for position flexibility among the linebackers, so Henderson's transition should be made easier by his familiarity with the various spots.
Restricted free-agent defensive end Darrion Scott said he doesn't plan to sign his tender until the April 20 deadline and admitted he was disappointed the Vikings elected to place the lowest of the NFL's four tenders ($850,000) on him. If another team signed Scott, it would need to give up a third-round pick to the Vikings. Scott led the Vikings in sacks last season.
With veteran Pat Williams entering the final season of a three-year, $13 million contract, coach Brad Childress said he recently talked to the nose tackle about doing an extension. "We're going to see if we can work with his number and see if it's favorable to him and favorable to us," Childress told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Quite possibly, it's not his last year with us."
Childress will be looking for a way to cut down on running back Chester Taylor's workload next season. Taylor combined for 345 carries and receptions in 2006. Candidates to lessen the load on Taylor include running backs Ciatrick Fason and Mewelde Moore and fullback Naufahu Tahi.
Defensive end Erasmus James, whose 2006 season ended early because of an ACL injury, could start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. James had a second procedure performed this winter to remove scar tissue.
Childress remains the Vikings' chief play-caller but said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will work on the mechanics of calling plays during minicamp practices. "We'll play with it a little bit," Childress said. "We may rock and roll some people through it as we go."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I welcome competition; that's part of why you play football. You don't want them to give it to you anyway. I've spent my whole life transferring (from Arkansas) and going to a smaller school (Alabama State). I feel like I've had to work harder to get to the NFL. I've earned everything I've got, and I want to keep earning it." -- Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on potentially competing for the starting job with Brooks Bollinger.
Brad Childress' revelation that E.J. Henderson will move inside also means that Chad Greenway will get the first crack at weakside linebacker.
E.J. Henderson's move inside also means that Chad Greenway will get the first crack at WLB.