The Vikings might have got bad news when Brett Favre decided to stay retired.
But the team still has plenty to look forward to in the 2009 season, with plenty of talent on the roster. One position the Vikings can count on to be better than in 2008 is middle linebacker, where E.J. Henderson is healthy again after playing only four games last year because of dislocated toes.
Many rank Henderson among the best middle linebackers in the NFL.
"Just watching him run around in the springtime, you realize how much you miss his presence," coach Brad Childress said. "He can get to balls that most guys can't, and he was having a tremendous year in the first four games last year.
"He makes everybody better ... he can shoo some plays to some of those other linebackers and defensive linemen."
Another positive for the team is having a healthy safety in Madieu Williams, who missed the first seven games of last season because of a neck injury suffered in training camp.
"Everything has a silver lining, and I think that probably the silver lining in [Williams' injury] was that Tyrell [Johnson] got a chance to start seven games, and then Madieu came back and he got a chance to start [nine] games, so at least both of them got a chance to get this system under their belt," Childress said. Johnson, a rookie last season, now is set to start along with Williams at safety, with Darren Sharper now with New Orleans.
Looking back to the Favre situation, Childress said: "I think it was a rare opportunity, and I owe it to this team and the Wilf family to explore options such as that."
It's been said by some that the Vikings' pursuit of Favre has put quarterbacks Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and John David Booty in a difficult position going forward. But Childress said: "Just like Jared Allen was a franchise player, nobody thought we would get Jared Allen, and there was no downside for those defensive linemen [already on the Vikings roster].
"Nobody said anything when Bernard Berrian came last year, those receivers didn't, nobody said anything when we drafted Percy Harvin number one. That's competition, and that's the way this thing goes.
"I mean, these guys are signing up for one of the most volatile jobs in society, and it's not for long. They are competitors, and I just saw absolutely no downside in investigating a guy that's played in this division, is an All-Pro, knows this system and still has the physical talents to play this game."Rubio honored
Timberwolves first-round pick Ricky Rubio received his award for 2008 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year on Thursday. The 18-year-old guard is the first player to win the award two years in a row.
"I'm proud to receive this award two years in a row because it proves I am working hard," Rubio said after receiving the award.
Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol, Rubio's teammate on the Spanish national team, was awarded FIBA Europe Player of the Year. Spain is getting ready for the European tournament EuroBasket 2009, which begins in Poland next week.
"Pau and Ricky are two of the most exciting players in the world, and it will be a pleasure to see both of them on the floor together," FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin said at the ceremony.Looking back, ahead
Regarding the Twins' 4-6 road trip to Texas, Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels, manager Ron Gardenhire said: "We could have been 6-4 on that road trip, a couple games got away. [Joe] Nathan lost one, which that doesn't happen, it just doesn't happen when your closer gives up a lead, he just doesn't do that, that was kind of a freak, and then you have a 10-run lead and we just fell apart pitching-wise, and we couldn't get through it. We could have been 6-4 on that road trip, there were a couple of really ugly games."
The road trip concluded with losses in three out of four games against the Angels, who visit the Metrodome for a three-game series beginning tonight.
"They're tough," Gardenhire said. "They got speed, they got power, they got it all. They can run around, they got good pitching, they can do a lot of things."
The Angels are winning without two of their stars, the injured Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, who won't be able to play this weekend in what figures to be his final regular-season games at the Metrodome. "He is going to be held out until after they leave the Astroturf," Gardenhire said. "He is having a great year, probably one of his best ever." Hunter is hitting .305 with 17 homers and 65 RBI in 77 games, but he has been on the disabled list most of this month because of a strained muscle in his thigh, an injury that caused him to miss the All-Star Game.Jottings
Entering Thursday, Justin Morneau ranked No. 1 in the American League in home runs (26), RBI (83), total bases (223), go-ahead RBI (21) and game-winning RBI (12). The Twins first baseman was second in slugging percentage at .584, behind only teammate Joe Mauer at .588, and was third in extra-base hits at 52. ... It's amazing to think that the injury that ruined Kevin Slowey's 2009 season, the one that caused him to need surgery, was suffered in his last start of the 2008 season against the White Sox, when he took a line drive off his right wrist. He came back to win 10 games this season before having to be shut down. ... The Twins have the fourth-highest local television ratings in baseball this season behind Boston, St. Louis and Milwaukee. ... The Twins also have an 11.9 percent increase in attendance from last year, even though baseball attendance overall is down 5.9 percent. Only Florida and Kansas City have bigger increases.
Former Gophers tight end Jack Simmons is in training camp with the New York Jets, while his former teammate Willie VanDeSteeg, a linebacker/defensive end, is in camp with the Baltimore Ravens. Both signed as undrafted free agents following the draft in April.
Twins farm director Jim Rantz said he is not surprised how well Garrett Jones is hitting the ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates after leaving the Twins last offseason as a six-year minor league free agent. "Jones is a power hitter that, given an opportunity to get some at-bats, he is going to get his share of home runs," Rantz said of Jones, who is hitting .323 with 10 homers and 16 RBI in 24 games with the Pirates -- all in July. "He did that with us at the AAA level and had some good years in AAA, he just felt that is was time to move on and change scenery because he felt that he was at a road block with what was ahead of him [Morneau], who you know is pretty good, so he made a right decision of moving on."