Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Erin Henderson stepping into new role with 'more lead in my pencil'

Posted by: under Vikings defense, Vikings off the field Updated: May 1, 2013 - 2:03 PM
Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson wants a heightened role. He wants more freedom on defense. He wants to use his athleticism and mobility and hunger to make big plays. And now he may be getting the greatest opportunity of his career. Heading into his sixth season and with the Vikings still looking to find a three-down middle linebacker, Henderson will get the first shot at locking down that role. Last year’s starter at middle linebacker, Jasper Brinkley, left for Arizona during free agency. And when the Vikings passed on the opportunity to draft a middle linebacker three times on the first night of last weekend’s NFL Draft, the door opened for Henderson to give things a try, an opportunity he’s been waiting for and preparing for since the end of last season.
 
On Wednesday morning at Winter Park, Henderson took a break from the team’s strength and conditioning workouts to meet with reporters. Here’s what he had to say …
 
What are your thoughts here on possibly sliding inside here to play middle linebacker?
I’m excited for the opportunity, man. My time here has been spent playing the will linebacker. But I got a taste of that mike and what it’s about when I’ve had the chance to play in those nickel situations. I look forward to the challenge. It’s something new for me to learn, something new for me to put my brain to and help me refocus a little bit with the kind of work and time I have to put in in order for us to be successful.
 
When did they first talk to you about the possibility of moving to middle linebacker?
It was kind of early in the offseason. It was something I kind of threw out there to Coach Pug [linebackers coach Fred Pagac]. Just letting him know I was more than capable of doing it and more than willing to make that transition if they needed me to. Now it’s just a matter of going out there and showing improvement and letting everybody know that they made the right decision.
 
So is that where you expect to be?
Right now, yeah. That’s what I expect. But you never really know how things go and what things they might talk about as we move forward and what they might decide that they want to do. Right now, that’s where my mind is, that’s what I’m studying and that’s what I’m trying to prepare myself for.
 
What’s going to be the biggest difference for you if you do end up inside?
Honestly, you guys won’t see the stat lines with two tackles, four tackles anymore. People won’t be able to give me a hard time about that. I’ll be in the middle, I’ll be able to move around a little bit and use my best ability, which I think is my agility and my ability to run from sideline to sideline. So I’ll have a chance to do that and be involved in more of the plays. I think that will be one of the biggest differences for me. I’ve already had to make checks and make corrections and different things like that playing the nickel mike. I think people understand in this day and age, 75 percent of the game is played against the nickel package anyway. So more times than not, I was running the show already. Now it’s a matter of doing it full-time when we come out to practice and everything else. I’m excited about the opportunity. I look forward to it.
 
Personality-wise, are you now at a point in your career to take that next step and be a guy calling the shots?
Oh yeah. I think I have the respect and trust of my teammates and my coaches. Which I think is very important, especially when you’re put into a leadership role and they’re asking you to do certain things. I think them moving me to that position and giving me a chance to play it shows that they trust me upstairs. I love the locker room that we have and the guys who look up to me and respect me for what I’ve done and what I want to be able to do in the future. As well as how I carry myself around here. I’m not mean to anybody. I’m not rude to anybody. If anybody has a question, they can come talk to me and ask me whatever they want to know, whether that be on the field or off the field. I think it’s a good fit.
 
What changes do you make preparation-wise for this move to middle linebacker?
I’m coming back a little bit heavier this year. In the past I’ve been 240 or lighter. Right now I’m about 248, 249. I know I’m going to have to have a little bit more lead in my pencil so to speak when you’re playing in the middle, playing that mike. So it’s just that and getting a little bit stronger at the point of attack and being able to take the next step from there.
 
Do you tap your older brother, E.J., for tips at all?
Not quite yet. I’m going to pick his brain a little bit. [But I want to] figure out some stuff on my own. And that way I can ask better questions and better know what to present to him and what he can really help me out with.
 
Did you come close to leaving here in free agency?
Nah. Not really. You get a chance to talk to people every now and again. And you hear some things from different teams. But I knew this is where I wanted to be. I knew this is where I wanted to play. I understood the opportunity that may be afforded to me here. There’s also a certain comfort level that comes along with being in a place going on six years now with the same coaches. And having the opportunity to build the relationship that’s there.
 
So were you preparing for this move to the middle early on after last season ended?
In my brain, yeah. Even though they wouldn’t really give me a definite answer or let me know what might happen. I knew the draft would play a big part of it. But it’s something I was kind of anticipating and hoping came into fruition.
 
You talked at the end of last year or making sure you stay home on defense and are in the right spot doing what’s asked of you. How do you get over that hurdle of making sure you’re doing that as consistently as you can?
When you’re playing the mike, it’s not as big of a deal. It’s not quite the same. Playing the will, you pretty much have to stay on that backside B gap no matter what’s happening. The ball could be going the other way and you want to go chase and you want to go be a part of the action. And then the running back might make a cut and get back through your B gap. It’s not really the same kind of situation once you move over to that mike. You still have to stay at home, still have to stick to your responsibilities. But I think they give you a little bit more freedom here at the mike to go find the ball and make plays.
 
So has the coaching staff talked to you even in the past couple of days, since the draft, since they didn’t draft a middle linebacker high, that this is where you have to be zoned in?
They pretty much told me, coming into OTAs, I’m going to be at the middle spot. It’s just a matter of me going out there. And the best three ‘backers will play. That’s what they told us. So now I have to go out there and take care of business.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Atlanta 127 FINAL
Cleveland 98
Phoenix 111 FINAL
Charlotte 106
Dallas 117 FINAL
Detroit 106
Utah 105 FINAL
Miami 87
Orlando 92 FINAL
Boston 109
Brooklyn 89 FINAL
Toronto 105
Memphis 111 2nd OT 0:02
San Antonio 109
Milwaukee 54 3rd Qtr 6:57
Portland 55
Houston 33 2nd Qtr 6:33
Denver 47
Indiana 44 2nd Qtr 2:54
LA Clippers 46
Ottawa 2 FINAL
New Jersey 0
Boston 3 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 2
Dallas 1 2nd Prd 8:44
Vancouver 0
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 72 FINAL
St Francis-NY 64
James Madison 72 FINAL
Ball State 52
SIU Edwardsville 65 FINAL
Campbell 70
St Francis-PA 67 FINAL
Duquesne 52
North Florida 77 FINAL
Florida State 93
Catawba 69 FINAL
George Mason 99
Ferrum 48 FINAL
High Point 106
Hampton 55 FINAL
Illinois 73
Gardner-Webb 65 FINAL
Jacksonville 68
Longwood 60 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 71
Arkansas State 69 FINAL
Miss State 55
Tennessee 72 FINAL
NC State 83
NC A&T 55 FINAL
Ohio State 97
Manhattan 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 65
Robert Morris 57 FINAL
Toledo 83
Char Southern 58 FINAL
Wofford 64
Kennesaw St 90 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
Barber-Scotia 52 FINAL
NC Central 108
Detroit 70 FINAL
UCF 75
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 73
TX A&M-CC 73 FINAL
Denver 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 61 FINAL
Houston 56
UT Martin 54 FINAL
Illinois State 64
Milligan 76 FINAL
Louisiana 115
Abilene Christian 44 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 83
USC Upstate 73 FINAL
Memphis 83
Alcorn State 56 FINAL
Murray State 94
Central Mich 80 FINAL
Northwestern 67
Georgia State 54 FINAL
Old Dominion 58
TX-Pan American 69 FINAL
Saint Louis 75
Ill-Chicago 46 FINAL
SMU 67
Texas State 60 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 66
SC State 39 FINAL
Texas Tech 101
Missouri State 70 FINAL
Tulsa 74
Chicago State 60 FINAL
Western Ky 75
Morehead State 50 FINAL
Green Bay 66
Northern Colorado 82 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 92
Winthrop 62 FINAL
Auburn 80
New Mexico St 55 FINAL
Baylor 66
San Diego St 60 1st OT 0:11
Cincinnati 71
Eastern Mich 46 FINAL
Michigan State 66
Loyola Marymount 58 FINAL
Stanford 67
Incarnate Word 82 FINAL
Grand Canyon 80
Northeastern 56 2nd Half 3:35
Cal Poly 53
Central Arkansas 47 2nd Half 10:38
New Mexico 56
Howard 34 2nd Half 10:07
Pepperdine 36
Portland 29 2nd Half
UNLV 28
CS-Northridge 16 1st Half 9:14
Oregon 17
Grambling St 6 1st Half 8:17
Washington 28
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 FINAL
Campbell 51
Akron 73 FINAL
UCF 64
Richmond 77 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 67
Montana 70 FINAL
Seattle 64
(7) Stanford 46 FINAL
Chattanooga 54
Florida A&M 69 FINAL
Southern U 80
Oklahoma 72 FINAL
(13) Duke 92
Savannah State 56 FINAL
Auburn 62
Northern Colorado 43 FINAL
South Florida 84
Youngstown St 73 FINAL
Robert Morris 65
Siena 75 FINAL
Sacred Heart 65
Vermont 63 FINAL
St Francis-NY 61
(1) South Carolina 69 FINAL
Hampton 49
Fla Gulf Coast 91 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 46
Texas Southern 92 FINAL
Houston Baptist 80
Northwestern 88 FINAL
UNLV 84
NC A&T 70 FINAL
Appalachian St 72
NC Central 52 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 67
Drexel 50 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Cincinnati 52 FINAL
Northern Ky 66
Alabama State 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 77
Morehead St 69 FINAL
USC Upstate 75
Arkansas State 59 FINAL
Kent State 44
American Univ 60 FINAL
Manhattan 52
UNC Greensboro 60 FINAL
St Bonaventure 78
Arkansas-Monticello 56 FINAL
Northwestern St 61
Prairie View 70 FINAL
Sam Houston St 51
McNeese State 59 FINAL
(3) Texas 76
Yale 90 FINAL
Wagner 65
Oakland 61 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 54
Eastern Kentucky 62 FINAL
Alabama A&M 56
SIU-Edwardsville 47 FINAL
Northern Ill 69
McMurry 25 FINAL
TX-Arlington 82
Portland 65 FINAL
Eastern Washington 72
North Texas 26 2nd Half 8:45
San Francisco 43
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT