Vikings counting on Henderson return

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While we’ve focused our attention on Minnesota’s quarterback situation lately, many of you have asked about the recovery of Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson. There was some fear last winter that his fractured femur could be career-ending, but Henderson said last week that he “definitely” would play again.

HendersonHendersonThe questions the Vikings now face: When will he return? At what level of play? And what do they do in the meantime?

Judging by the Vikings’ inaction during the free-agent period, it seems safe to assume they will give him every opportunity to reclaim his job. Until that point, they seem set to follow the same contingency plan they implemented last December. Jasper Brinkley would seem the likeliest candidate to play in Henderson’s place until he returns or if he suffers a setback.

The latter scenario is something the Vikings must plan for, even if they have no reason to believe it will happen. A fractured femur occurs more often in traffic accidents than it does on the football field. If nothing else, his rehabilitation schedule will be difficult to predict.

“Nothing is going to surprise me with E.J. because he’s taken and embraced this thing,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said at Wednesday’s NFC coaches breakfast. “Talking to him and the people that he’s talked to with a similar injury he wants to set the E.J. Henderson protocol for this injury: Moving ahead, being ahead of the curve, doing the things he’s done at this point of time. Everything I’ve seen, he’s attacking it and he’s moving in the right direction in a hurry.”

It’s possible the Vikings could sign or draft a linebacker who could supplant Brinkley on the depth chart, but Childress said he “did a great job” in Henderson’s place last season and offered no reason to believe the Vikings aren’t counting on him for a bigger role in 2010.

“He was physical,” Childress said. “I thought he was into it system-wise. Did he make mistakes? Yeah, but you could say everybody … made mistakes at different points as well.”