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Updated: September 16th, 2011 7:00pm
Notebook: E.J. Henderson's injury a reminder of inexperienced depth

Notebook: E.J. Henderson's injury a reminder of inexperienced depth

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Whether E.J. Henderson plays on Sunday or not, the Minnesota Vikings' lack of experienced depth at linebacker is hard to overlook.

Jasper Brinkley, who might have been the top backup at all three positions, had hip surgery and went on season-ending injured reserve on Sept. 3.

Kenny Onatolu, whom coaches hoped would compete for a starting job at weakside linebacker, suffered a stress fracture in his left foot the first week of training camp and missed the bulk of the preseason.

Special-teams ace Heath Farwell was released in final cuts, leaving a backup corps of Onatolu, undrafted rookie Larry Dean and Xavier Adibi, who was claimed off waivers from Houston on Sept. 4 and still is learning the defense.

The Vikings' backup plan if Henderson's workout doesn't go well before Sunday's home opener against Tampa Bay would be to move his brother, Erin Henderson, to the middle and play Onatolu in Erin Henderson's usual spot on the weak side in the base defense.

"Obviously, that's not what we're thinking about," strongside linebacker Chad Greenway said of losing E.J. Henderson, who expressed confidence on Friday about his ability to overcome knee swelling and start against the Buccaneers.

"We're just hoping he gets back. I am not sure what his status is exactly, but ... it would be difficult. He's obviously the (leader) of our defense. Unfortunately it's something we have to get past. But when you lose a veteran, somebody steps in. We'll be good."

The last time the Vikings lost a starting linebacker for any extended stretch was December 2009, when E.J. Henderson suffered the fractured femur that required surgery and has led to occasional swelling as he has experienced this week.

Greenway played 96.9% of the defensive snaps. E.J. Henderson played 94.5%. Ben Leber, who wasn't brought back this offseason and ended up signing with the St. Louis Rams, played in all 16 games on the weak side. That left few game snaps to develop their backups.

Erin Henderson only played 22 snaps last season, filling in for part of one game when Leber suffered a back injury and getting some extra work in the goal-line package. Onatolu has been exclusively a special teamer for two seasons. Adibi started five games in 2008 and three in 2010, but that was in a different defense with the Texans.

"You're going to have those dings," Erin Henderson said. "You're going to have those things that different things that happen. This time it's (E.J.). The next time it might be me or it might be Chad. You're going to have different issues and different problems.

"My knee's already swelled up earlier this season and I had to (get it drained) and take care of what I had to take care of. But you just expect for it. You plan for it."

Frampton fined

Backup safety Eric Frampton was fined $15,000 for a horse-collar tackle in Sunday's loss at San Diego, an NFL spokesman said.

Officials flagged Frampton on the first play of the fourth quarter when he yanked down Chargers receiver Bryan Walters from behind on a punt return.

Health watch

E.J. Henderson (knee) and end Adrian Awasom (knee) were listed as questionable on the injury report.

Awasom returned to practice on Friday on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday, and coach Leslie Frazier said it didn't appear he had any trouble.

Receiver Michael Jenkins (groin) and cornerback Asher Allen (toe) practiced in full all week and are probable.

The Buccaneers ruled out two backups, receiver Sammie Stroughter and cornerback Myron Lewis (ankle). Backup left tackle James Lee (knee) is questionable after missing Friday's practice, and end Da'Quan Bowers (shoulder) is probable.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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