Shortly after E.J. Henderson suffered a fractured femur in his left leg against the Arizona Cardinals in early December, Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was told it might be a year before the middle linebacker could return.
Someone must have failed to tell Henderson about that timetable.
For the first time this offseason, Henderson talked extensively Friday about his rehab and made it clear his goal is to be back by training camp. Whether that's realistic will be up to the Vikings' doctors and athletic trainers, but to say Henderson is optimistic about his recovery from a gruesome injury would be an understatement.
“My mindset when I got hurt -- after it was all said and done, once I knew that I’d be able to come back -- my mindset was to do what I’ve got to do to get back," Henderson said while attending the Vikings Playground build at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School in North Minneapolis. "At this point, I think we’re right on track where we need to be. Where in two months I’ll be in good enough condition, I’ll have my football movements under me enough where I can come out and be the player that I was. That’s what it is right now. Keep working these next two months and by camp I should be ready to rock.”
The reality is that Henderson is probably being a bit optimistic. But he has been able to take part in stretching excercises during the recent Organized Team Activities and has been extremely dedicated to his rehab program. Henderson was hurt in the fourth quarter of the Vikings' loss at Arizona on Dec. 6 when he collided with safety Jamarca Sanford. He was taken off the field on a stretcher to an awaiting ambulance and underwent surgery when he arrived at the hospital.
The injury was so bad that several of Henderson's teammates appeared near tears in the locker room. Henderson had a titanium rod placed in his leg during surgery and that will remain there.
“They put [the] rod in my leg so it’s not like it can re-break," Henderson said. "It’s been seven months since the injury, so the fracture is pretty much healed up with new bone and new callus. It’s not really like any other injury. It’s rare, it’s unique. But once you get back to full strength the leg should be stronger.”
Frazier has watched Henderson workout and said, "I know he has attacked the rehab with great enthusiasm and just like you would expect from E.J. he hasn't had the down days, at least he hasn't appeared to on the surface."
Continued Frazer: "He believes in himself, he believes he can make it back a lot sooner than people thought. ... To see the progress that he's made and hear [head athletic trainer] Eric Sugarman say that he's ahead of schedule. It's just so different than what it was back in December when the injury occurred."
Henderson said his rehab currently consists of the basics. "It's just trying to get into linebacker drills and football-related drills," he said. "Football conditioning. It’s tough not doing OTAs and minicamps and going through a full practice but we do the best that we can to simulate that. Simulate the movements of playing and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
And is there any question in Henderson's mind if he can be the player that he was before injury? “[There is] no doubt in my mind," he said. "No doubt in my mind."