EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Erin Henderson has volunteered to man the middle linebacker spot for the Minnesota Vikings and said this week he’s been preparing as such and expects to make the move from the starter on the weak side to the middle.
But Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier sounded Friday like such a move hasn’t quite been decided.
“We’ve been talking about it,” Frazier said after the first practice of the team’s rookie minicamp this weekend. “We want to take a look at some things in this minicamp, and we’ll probably make a decision after we get done, and talk about some things. But he’s definitely in that conversation.”
Two days earlier, Henderson said coaches have told him he’s likely to begin the organized team activities later this summer in the middle, moving from his starting weakside spot to replace Jasper Brinkley in the middle. Brinkley signed with the Arizona Cardinals in March, shortly after Henderson agreed to a two-year, $4 million contract to stay in Minnesota.
Henderson said he volunteered to switch at the beginning of the offseason and had spent time during the past few months preparing for such a move. Henderson said he’s often played on the weak side at 240 pounds or lighter and mentioned Wednesday he’s up to about 249 pounds now, adding strength to compete in the middle.
“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,” Henderson said of the middle spot. “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.”
If Henderson stays on the outside, Frazier mentioned Audie Cole and Tyrone McKenzie as possible options in the middle, as well as rookie linebacker Michael Mauti, who was taken in the seventh round of last weekend’s draft out of Penn State. Mauti, who has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his knees three times, is still in the recovery phase from his latest surgery.
“Well, he’s no question behind as a rookie, to miss all the reps he’s going to miss between now and training camp,” Frazier said of Mauti. “It makes it tough, but he’s capable of catching up. He’ll have to. He’s definitely going to be behind when we get to training camp.”
And Frazier, of course, is keeping Henderson’s name in the mix in the middle. The coach mentioned Marvin Mitchell, McKenzie and rookie Gerald Hodges, drafted in the fourth round out of Penn State as options on the outside, along with Henderson.
“We still have Marvin Mitchell, who’s coming back,” Frazier said. “We drafted Gerald, who’s a candidate as well. We have a couple guys there who could possibly do it. McKenzie could do it if it doesn’t work out for him at mike. So we have some options if we have to go in that direction.”
Henderson’s versatility, at the very least, will leave options for the coaches as they determine who is ready to be a starter.
“It’s just a matter of me going out there and the best three backers will play,” Henderson said. “That’s what they told us. So now I have to go out there and take care of business.”
Getting a look at Locke: The Vikings are getting their first long look at UCLA punter Jeff Locke, who they drafted in the fifth round, this week.
Minnesota is saying Locke will compete with incumbent punter Chris Kluwe. This week’s situation with Locke is similar to last year’s with rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who came in during rookie minicamp while veteran Ryan Longwell was still on the roster. The Vikings ended up releasing Longwell the week following rookie minicamp.
Frazier, of course, didn’t say Kluwe would suffer a similar fate, but he did mention the similarities to last year.
“A similar process although a little different position,” Frazier said. “But try to test (Locke) a little bit and see how he handles some different things.”
With practice moved indoors because of the weather, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer took Locke to the Metrodome to do some punting.
“There’s some things we want to take a look at with Jeff and just see if he’s capable of getting certain things accomplished that we’d like to see happen,” Frazier said. “I don’t want to be too specific, but there’s some things we want to be able to look at with him and see if he can get them done.”
Casting call: Minnesota has 67 players in town for the rookie minicamp, including its nine draft choices, nine players who were previously under contract, 16 signed undrafted free agents and 33 players attending on a tryout basis.
Trying to catch a coach’s eye as an undrafted player is difficult but not impossible. The Vikings often point out that cornerback-returner Marcus Sherels eventually made the team as an undrafted player on a tryout at the rookie minicamp a few years prior.
“For some of those guys, you’re right, it’s just a small window,” Frazier said. “They’ve got to jump out early and fast. Probably the way they handle themselves in the meetings, that makes a difference and then if they carry some of the things they grasp in the meetings to the field. And they need to make a play, they need to do something that the coaches will look at and go, ‘Wow, that guy, he caught my eye.’ So, you’ve got to find a way to make a play, whether you’re on offense, defense, whether you’re doing something on special teams as well. It’s a tall task, but it happens.”
Four University of Minnesota players were attending on a tryout, according to a list posted on the Vikings’ website Friday morning: John Rabe, who played tight end with the Gophers, was listed as a fullback. Linebackers Lee Campbell and Keanon Cooper and cornerback Michael Carter, were also a part of the tryouts.
Carter is the cousin of former Vikings safety Tyrone Carter. Perhaps the biggest name present for tryouts, and the biggest-named Carter, is Duron Carter, newly elected Hall of Famer Cris Carter’s son.