MANKATO, Minn. — Early in training camp, new Minnesota Vikings linebacker Desmond Bishop was being interviewed by the media when Erin Henderson approached and put his arm around his new teammate as a show of the budding friendship between the two.
Henderson said there was no animosity between the two and wanted to prove things are fine between them. Henderson’s gesture wasn’t the first to negate any possible ill-will that could be created by Henderson wanting to stay in his spot at middle linebacker and many believing Bishop was signed as a possible starter in the middle.
When he first signed, Bishop reached out to Henderson via Twitter. The two talked and made sure the air was clear before training camp began.
“It actually tells me a lot about him from the very beginning,” Henderson said. “It may be something as simple as a follow on Twitter, but it also says a lot because you pick and choose who you want to follow and who you want to be associated with, who you want to deal with on social media. For him to reach out early on and say what he said and do what he did, that speaks volumes to him and his character.”
Henderson has stayed in the middle, as was his preference after making the move from the weakside during the offseason. Bishop has been working on the outside in camp and has been playing with the second-team as he learns the defense and makes his return after missing all of last season.
Minnesota likes the way the two have played at the respective positions. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the moves have gone well enough that there are no plans right now to switch the two back to the positions they’ve played throughout most of their careers.
“We will see how it goes over the next few weeks, but so far so good for what Desmond is getting accomplished, along with what Erin is doing at the middle linebacker position,” Frazier said.
On the same team, and with the threat of Bishop forcing Henderson back outside gone, the two are focused on working together as teammates. Those first few days when Bishop reached out to Henderson set the stage for their work now.
“I was just reaching out and making sure, at the end of the day, that we’re Vikings and we’ve got a goal in mind for the team and that’s what we have to figure out a way to keep that first,” Bishop said.
Henderson’s insistence during minicamp that he was the team’s middle linebacker appeared as if he resisted a possible signing and competition in the middle. Henderson is also trying to keep his hold on the nickel linebacker spot.
Henderson made sure to tell Bishop early on, there were no issues between the two.
“Both of us understood there was no bad blood or hard feelings, or ill will,” Henderson said. “We’re all on the same page, coming out here trying to win games as a Viking. That’s all we’re trying to do and that’s all it’s ever been. There’s never really been any hostility towards him. I’ve never been upset that they brought him in.”
And the two can help each other in their new spots. Bishop’s signing, at least at the time, seemed to answer one of the defense’s final questions. Bishop is a former starter with Green Bay, but he’s been playing behind Marvin Mitchell in training camp.
If Bishop can return to the level he played at when he was led the Packers in tackles in 2011 and Henderson can succeed in his transition inside, the Vikings could have one of the best sets of linebackers they’ve had in years with Chad Greenway as the leader of the group on the strongside.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Bishop said. “People ask me, ‘How are the linebackers here, the new team?’ I tell them, every single person, all nine of us, everybody is really good. It’s fun.”
Bishop said it’s been refreshing to see how all of the linebackers and the coaches work together and interact. He’s not only making the transition from Green Bay and the 3-4 defense to Minnesota and its 4-3 defense, but also returning after missing all last season with a hamstring injury.
“I thought that he was going to be rusty getting back in it, but he’s really not,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “One thing that shows about Desmond is that he has unbelievable hustle. He’s a bright, instinctive player and he has always run to the ball. If you’ve looked at all the tape from the previous years, all the rust that I expected him to come in with for him it’s not there, and for him to pick up the defense, I thought that it was going to be a little bit. He got in there day one with the second group, he was sharp and that was very encouraging.”
Henderson said he hasn’t felt much of a difference in his move to the middle because of his prior experience playing the middle in the nickel defense.
“You have a little bit more weight coming at you and different things,” Henderson said of the difference. “Teams may be more focused on trying to bloody your nose or run downhill as opposed to you get in the nickel and it might be a trick run here or there. But for the most part they’re trying to pick up big chunks of yards or pick up first downs. The run game does change a little bit, but your reads stay the same.”
Henderson said he’s added a little weight to account for the move, but only increasing to about 248 pounds from the 240 pounds he weighed while playing the weakside. And he’s been in the middle of a lot of action so far in training camp.
Henderson’s been appreciative of the support from Frazier in his move to middle linebacker, even after the signing of Bishop.
“There can be times where you don’t know what the coaching staff is thinking or what the organization is thinking or where they are headed or what they want to see happen,” Henderson said. “So when you have a coach that comes out and stands up behind you; I always say this, ‘Coach Frazier is like a father figure to us.’ A lot of times, when you look at your dad, when you look at somebody that you view in that way, you don’t want to let them down. So once he gives you that vote of confidence, says ‘he’s going to be our middle linebacker until otherwise, something else happens.’ Now it’s my turn. He’s done his part as our head coach and now it’s my turn to go out there and make him look good and make him look right in his decision.”
Rhodes, Raymond miss practice: Minnesota was without two members of its secondary in the afternoon padded practice on Friday as rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Mistral Raymond were held out.
Frazier said earlier in the day Rhodes was dealing with a hamstring injury and would be held out. Raymond’s absence was a surprise. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported later Friday that Raymond is also dealing with a hamstring injury.
Frazier said receiver Chris Summers has a hamstring injury, but Summers participated in practice Friday.
Henderson, who was dealing with a sore groin on Thursday, participated in the morning walk-through and padded practice on Friday. Bishop was out for part of practice Friday with what appeared to be an injury, but later returned.
Frazier not concerned with Peterson’s predictions: Running back Adrian Peterson has made it well known his goal is to run for 2,500 yards this season after finishing last season with 2,097 and falling eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s single-season NFL record.
While Frazier would maybe worry about some players making bold predictions or causing a distraction with outlandish statements, he’s not too worried about Peterson shooting for 2,500 yards.
“Well guys in general is one thing, Adrian Peterson is another,” Frazier said Friday, smiling. “When Adrian says 2,500 or 2,000, it’s a different thing. It’s a different matter because he’s more than capable of achieving those goals. I’ve learned that when he told me last season that he’s going to have the type of year that he did have and for it to turn the way it did, I don’t doubt Adrian Peterson.
“If he says he can gain 2,500 yards, it’s possible but if there’s someone else that is talking about predictions and this and that then we’ll have a conversation; but Adrian, no. I like to see him achieve goals.”