Wednesday, December 7, 2016

e.j. henderson

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The NFL has lined up special dignitaries, largely made up of former players, to announce second and third round picks for the respective teams which they are associated with.

The Vikings have announced that the two former players slated to announce their picks are E.J. Henderson and Daunte Culpepper.

 

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Image courtesy of Vikings,com

Last week, it was all about the offensive and special teams free agents that could potentially land in Minnesota this offseason. This week, it is all about the defense.

For a unit that ranked fifth in points allowed last season, one would think that the Vikings do not have much to improve upon for 2016. However, improving in a few areas this offseason with free agent signings could help propel Minnesota’s defense into one of the NFL’s best in more categories than just points allowed.

Finding a safety to play next to Harrison Smith is priority number one on this defense’s offseason checklist, as well as improving the play at few other positions. The Vikings, who spent the fourth least amount on free agents last offseason, will likely bring in players who put a smaller dent in their wallet and shy away from the free agents looking for their big payday.

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Jasper Brinkley made was all set to be E.J. Henderson’s primary backup at middle linebacker in 2011, but a preseason hip injury sent him to injured reserve which meant he didn’t play a single snap in the regular season.

This year, the stakes are even higher as he is in line to outright replace Henderson as the team’s starting middle linebacker, but once again injures are casting a shadow of doubt over his ability to successfully man the position.

In the middle of the OTA schedule Brinkley suffered a groin injury.  He opened Tuesday’s minicamp on the sideline, but Brinkley says the reason is not his groin injury, but rather is related to the hip injury from last year.

“Just a process with the hip, still keep going so hopefully I’ll be out at practice one day before (minicamp is over),” Brinkley said on Tuesday. “This goes back to the hip. Other than that, though, everything is good.”

Brinkley described the decision to sit out as “precautionary” and said if this were a regular season game he would be playing.

“The first couple of OTAs, I was able to do a little bit. I was able to show what I could do,” Brinkley said. “I’m pretty sure if the coaches weren’t satisfied they would bring somebody else in. It’s still a work in progress.”

Brinkley is probably right about that.  The Vikings passed on a chance to sign Rocky McIntosh, who has now signed with the Rams, but other options still exist if they don’t think Brinkley is a true solution.

One of those options?  E.J. Henderson.

Tyrone McKenzie has been playing as the first team middle linebacker during Brinkley’s absence.

As pointed out by The Viking Age, Sid Hartman recently stated that there is a “good chance” that middle linebacker E.J. Henderson re-signs with the Vikings this offseason.

Now, E.J. has been one of my favorite Vikings to watch for a number of years now (and I would love to still wear his jersey on game day without feeling silly), but even I wouldn’t have predicted that the elder Henderson somehow worked into the Vikings offseason plan of getting younger, healthier, and less expensive.

Jasper Brinkley might not fit the Tampa-2 scheme real great, as some media outlets have been quick to opine, but the right rotation of Brinkley, Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway could make them a very effective group.

Hartman writes that Henderson is not wavering from his demand to be paid the same as last season for his services, which would bring his salary in at $6.7 million.

That isn’t going to happen.  If it was, it already would have.

Henderson is on the wrong side of thirty, has had trouble staying on the field in consecutive seasons, and is a major liability in pass coverage.  If the Vikings planned to give that type of money to a veteran linebacker this offseason, that too would have already happened.

In fact, looking back at how the offseason has played, one of my only real complaints is that the Vikings didn’t pony up for a stud linebacker when they had the chance.  Stephen Tulloch (signed with Lions), Curtis Lofton (Saints), Dan Connor (Cowboys), and David Hawthorne (Seahawks) all could have been sure-fire upgrades at the linebacker position.

I like Brinkley’s potential, but the linebacker position is one to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses.

With long-time starter E.J. Henderson, the Vikings are leaving the door open to his return, but it seems more likely they move on.  In an offseason where free agent linebackers are, for some reason, getting treated like they have less value than punters, the Vikings have kept their distance from any of them.

One reason for that is that they have high hopes for third year player Jasper Brinkley.

Brinkley is 26 years old and missed all of 2011 when he had hip surgery in August.  He had played in all 32 games of the previous seasons, including taking Henderson’s place in 2009 following the leg injury that ended his season.

“When (Brinkley) did step in for E.J., he continued to get better and really started playing well — especially as we went through the playoffs and the more experience he got,” Spielman said from the NFL’s owner meetings.

“He started off very well last year (in training camp) and it’s a shame he got his hip hurt,” Spielman continued, “but we’ve got a lot of high expectations for Jasper coming back.”

Henderson, age 31, does not seem to fit into Spielman’s youth movement strategy employed this offseason and the most likely scenario is that Brinkley’s main source of competition will come from the 2012 NFL Draft.

For now, consider starting middle linebacker Brinkley’s job to lose.

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