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Look who's talking: Jets LB Erin Henderson ready for Pro Bowl season

Erin Henderson turned a second chance into a second year with the New York Jets, and he intends to show them they made a good decision. He already sounds the part.

The veteran linebacker, elevated to a starting position in the offseason, has emerged as one of the vocal leaders on the Jets' defense. At practice, he does more yapping than a presidential candidate, firing up teammates, trash-talking the offense (yes, you, Christian Hackenberg) and keeping it light with nonstop chatter. It's a departure from last season, when Henderson -- snubbed by the NFL in 2014 -- was in "just happy to be here" mode.

He's back, and ready to make all kinds of noise.

"I've got a long way to go, but I think I can still play at a high level, a Pro-Bowl level," he said last week. "That's my goal. That's what I'm shooting for."

That would be an amazing story.

A year ago, the Jets took a one-year flyer on Henderson, who made the team as a backup and special-teams contributor. That was a victory, considering his off-the-field troubles. After two alcohol-related arrests and a stint in rehab, he was cut by the Minnesota Vikings, served a four-game league suspension and remained unemployed for the entire 2014 season. He played well enough last year to land Demario Davis’ old starting job and a two-year, $4 million contract.

"It meant the world," Henderson said of the team's belief in him. "Coming off the street, these guys didn't know me from a can of paint. I don't think they really expected me to do what I did last year. I really didn't know what to expect from myself."

Henderson made the team despite missing three preseason games due to a knee injury. Obviously, the Jets saw something in him. He got off to a slow start, but by December, he was sharing time with Davis at inside linebacker. He played his best game in the season finale, recording 11 tackles while playing 45 defensive snaps.

People forget that he was a solid starter for the Vikings before his drinking issues surfaced. Near the end of the 2013 season, he was arrested twice in a six-week span, spending a night in jail for the second transgression -- on New Year's Eve, 2014. Upon his release, he immediately checked himself into rehab.

Last season was a transition, learning a new city, new teammates and a new environment. Henderson said he was "figuring myself out, figuring out what it was like to play football again." He kept to himself, understanding his role on the team.

Now? You can't keep him quiet.

During last Wednesday's practice, Henderson gave Hackenberg an earful, exposing the rookie quarterback to the kind of verbal taunting he'll receive when he's playing for real.

"I think he’s feeling more comfortable and he likes to get everybody going," coach Todd Bowles said of the 29-year-old linebacker. "Erin’s always been a talker behind the scenes, but lately he’s become more of a, shall I say, vocal leader in that regard. It's all in fun with him. If you know him, it’s all in fun. He gets the guys going and he likes to cause little stir-ups out there every now and then. But it was good camaraderie."

The Jets could use a spark plug on defense because they don't have many talkative players.

"I don't think people will really appreciate my story until it's over, until it's said and done and I'm not playing football anymore," Henderson said. "Then they'll kind of look at it and be like, 'Wow!'"