|Meet the 'backer brothers: E.J. and Erin Henderson|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 14 August 2008 09:42|
After two solid seasons as a linebacker at Maryland, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles as a junior and declaring early, Henderson was passed over by all 32 teams.
The consolation prize came quickly.
``It took about 10 minutes to get over,'' Henderson said. ``I was upset, but then I thought about it. I'm going to Minnesota to play with big bro. What do I really have to be upset about?''
The Vikings signed him hours after the draft, providing the opportunity to outdo more experienced and more expensive players for a spot as a backup. The bonus? His older brother E.J. Henderson was already entrenched there as a starter, coming off a career year in which he was voted the team's most valuable defensive player.
They're six years apart, 28 and 22, so they weren't that tight as kids and have never been teammates. Training camp, thus, has been a time to catch up.
It's been a time for Erin to use E.J. as a natural resource for learning the defense and the nuances of the position. It's also been a time to make clear - to Erin, E.J. and everyone else on and around the team - just how different these siblings are in personality despite a strikingly similar appearance.
``It's still weird, because you never know which E.J. is going to show up to practice,'' Erin said. ``Sometimes you've got the laid-back, don't-say-nothing-to-me E.J. Sometimes you've got the E.J. you want to play around with. Sometimes you've got the E.J. that's got all kinds of energy and wants to be a jerk about things. So it's still kind of tough to figure him out.''
Sure sounds like the little brother, huh?
``I knew he was a real fun-loving guy. Very open with everybody. Gets along with just about everybody. Very passionate. You see that when he's playing,'' E.J. said. ``Very vocal. Born leader. I knew all that, but it's just good to see he could continue on at this level with these types of players and these types of guys around him.''
The Hendersons grew up in Maryland - they're from Aberdeen, hometown of baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. - and both played for the Terrapins. Saturday's preseason game at Baltimore against the Ravens was to be a special treat for family members, even if they're nervous about Erin's status.
For E.J., August is a tuneup, a time to get in rhythm with the rest of the defense and get used to communicating with coaches before the snap through a microphone and speakers in his helmet. The practice started with quarterbacks and is being expanded this season to include a designated defensive player.
For Erin, this month could make or break his career.
E.J. came with more pomp as a second-round draft pick after winning the Butkus Award (for the nation's best linebacker) and Bednarik Trophy (for the nation's best defensive player) as a senior in 2002. Erin is easily expendable since Minnesota didn't invest significant scouting time or a six-figure signing bonus.
``Everybody's excited, man, hoping he can make the team. If he does, it should be a very fun year,'' E.J. said.
Linebackers coach Fred Pagac and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will determine that.
``Everything you get you've got to earn,'' Pagac said. ``If it comes down to the final day and he's on the team, he'll have earned it and he'll have done a good job. He's doing everything I ask.''
His chance of staying increased last week when special teams standout and backup linebacker Heath Farwell was lost for the season with a knee injury. E.J. is set in the middle, with Chad Greenway and Ben Leber at the outside spots, but the reserve roles are up for grabs. Erin is competing with Rufus Alexander, Vinny Ciurcui, David Herron, Jeremy Leman and Derrick Pope to be one of the three backup linebackers likely to be on the roster.
``I want to wish Heath a speedy recovery, but once again I want to just take advantage of opportunities that are presented,'' said Erin, who graduated from Maryland last December. ``You never know when opportunity knocks. It's on me to always answer it.''
He said he felt he cleared a mental hurdle by playing last week in his first exhibition game.
``Nobody cares where you got drafted anymore. Nobody cares what school you went to. It doesn't matter. It's about football and going out there and playing the game that you love to play,'' Erin said. ``Hey, I was undrafted, but so what? What can I do about it now?''
Contributing on special teams will certainly help his cause. Because the middle (or ``Mike'') position comes with myriad responsibilities, Erin is playing only the outside spots.
Greenway has been a big help with that. After all, E.J. can only explain so much. He's the introvert with a degree in criminal justice who's often seen leaving the locker room wearing a brooding look and huge headphones.
Erin carries the same stony expression, but he studied communications and wants to be a broadcaster when he's done playing. He joked during the NFL scouting combine in February that it took him ``15 years'' to get his brother to talk to him while they were kids.
``As I got older and matured, started playing ball and got serious about it, he kind of took me under his wing and we became closer and closer as time went on,'' Erin said.
The hours spent in meetings and in practice have offered even more opportunity.
``I guess you can say he's catching up. Finally he can compete with me, do some of the same things I do, legally,'' E.J. said, flashing a rare smile. ``So it's all good.''