The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to draft Manti Te’o to start at middle linebacker. I thought it would happen, many of you thought it would happen, and Patrick Reusse of 1500 ESPN called it a “100% certainty.” Of course, as we all know, the Vikings passed on Te’o on three occasions before he was swiped up by the Chargers in the second round.
In fact, the Vikings ignored the position up until the seventh round when they selected Penn State’s Michael Mauti. Now, Mauti has first round talents and leadership skills, but he also comes with an injury history that nearly caused him to go undrafted.
So, despite my opinion that the idea has never made much sense, Brian Urlacher’s name just keeps coming up in connection with the Vikings. Yesterday, in what would seem to cynics (anybody know one?) like an obvious attempt to drum up interest in himself, a dubious “report” appeared that said the linebacker was leaning towards joining the Vikings.
The nonstop chatter about the position, and nonstop chatter about Erin Henderson’s lack of abilities, has not been sitting well with him and he took to the media on Wednesday to make his feelings known.
“I haven’t been more pissed in — I couldn’t tell you,” Henderson told 1500 ESPN after saying head coach Leslie Frazier has told him he needs to play more angry. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this pissed in my entire life, to just hear people talk about stuff that they have no idea what they’re talking about.”
“I guess it’s getting to a point now where it’s like, ‘Dang, I just want a little bit of respect,'” he continued. “I’m not asking you to call me the greatest linebacker to ever play the game yet. Maybe one day we might get to that point, but show me a little bit of respect for what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished in this league.”
The main knock against Henderson have centered around the occasional, but glaring, soft tackling efforts and missed assignments in the passing game. He has seemed to play at his best on the weakside, but when faulty decision making and injuries plagued Jasper Brinkley in 2012, Henderson was actually not too bad as the middle linebacker. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t bad.
Henderson shouldn’t have to worry about Urlacher any time soon, however, as Frazier appeared on NFL AM and said the team wasn’t considering adding the veteran at this time, but he also didn’t hand anything to Henderson on a silver platter. He said there would be a battle, a competition, for the starting middle linebacker spot.
“I’ve kind of had to deal with it my entire career,” Henderson said. “A lot of people have said I shouldn’t have been starting as the will ‘backer. Coach was saying the same thing going into the season last year — ‘Well … Erin’s going to start out camp as the will backer.’ It’s never really been just outright, ‘OK, this is Erin’s position. This is Erin’s spot.'”
I don’t know if the Vikings have been using what doubters are saying about Henderson as motivation or what, but it is kind of unsettling to hear him spout off about what fans and the media are saying about him. It kind of takes me aback a little bit as we don’t often hear players address comments of this nature in such a direct manner.
“And to the fans who don’t believe that I can do it, you haven’t seen me do it,” he said. “How can you say that I can’t do something if you haven’t seen me do it? They say different things about my abilities or whether I should be a starting linebacker or everything else, but my numbers and the fact that I’m still here speak for themselves.”
The beauty of the Urlacher thing, even though I never thought for one second that Rick Spielman would sign him, is that he kind of provides “competition” at the position as long as he remains a free agent. The Vikings have Henderson, Mauti, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie and Marvin Mitchell lined up to duke it out during OTA’s and training camp, but the threat of Urlacher’s name-value continuing to pop up can only push these guys that much further.
Last year, when a tremendous amount of linebacker talent was available in free agency, the Vikings gambled on Brinkley and lost. This year they are doing the same thing by passing on great talents in the Draft, and betting on their in-house talent to get the job done. The gamble could end up making the front office look like geniuses, but failing to invest significantly in the middle linebacker position could also end up being this team’s downfall in 2013.
Right now, however, it appears Henderson will get the first crack at making sure that doesn’t happen.
And that thousands of fans don’t end up telling him “we told you so.”