Notebook: Henderson happy to be back, but Mauti may steal snaps Sunday
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - He may have been the Minnesota Vikings' 'plan B' at middle linebacker, but Erin Henderson is glad to be back where he started the 2013 season.
After a month of not playing due to personal reasons and a switch back to the little-used, weak-side linebacker spot, Henderson saw 81 snaps in last Sunday's loss at the Cincinnati Bengals after playing a combined 20 snaps in the previous four games since his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving on Nov. 19.
"It was a little hard. Tough pill to swallow," Henderson said. "Having to go back to the outside with the way things played out. It was definitely a difficult situation for me. I'm a firm believer that if you stick to what you believe in and what you know, eventually it'll come back to you and you'll be where you're supposed to be."
Second-year linebacker Audie Cole took Henderson's spot at middle linebacker and turned in some disruptive performances against the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Cole led the Vikings with 35 tackles in his first three starts before he left Sunday's loss after five snaps with an ankle injury that will hold him out for the last game of the season.
Henderson stepped in and played all but two snaps on Sunday as he led the team with 12 tackles.
Henderson, 27, has the back end of his two year, $4 million contract he signed in March to fulfill next season - but there's no guarantee he'll be back in the middle. Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier this month that Henderson was the Vikings' 'plan B' at middle linebacker because 'that's the plight we were in' this offseason.
Frazier went along with that sentiment when he said Thursday that rookie linebacker Michael Mauti will get some reps at middle linebacker in Sunday's season finale against the Detroit Lions in what amounts to a tilt between two teams with fluid coaching situations that are jockeying for nothing concrete but draft positions.
"Might get Michael in there some and take a look at him. See how Erin is doing, but get Michael some as well," Frazier said. "He's done some good things, this offseason is going to be big for [Mauti]."
Mauti, 23, has played 11 defensive snaps this season - with his career-high of seven snaps coming on his one-year anniversary from his third torn anterior cruciate ligament on Nov. 17, 2012.
Regardless, Henderson said a couple starts back in the middle will help him move on from his struggles on and off the field and perhaps add to his audition for the team's long-term answer at middle linebacker.
"I'm excited. To get the opportunity to go out there and show I'm improved, end the season on a high note, a good note," Henderson said. "Get a good taste in my mouth."
Defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams could be preparing to play their final game together as teammates.
What Allen knows for sure is that it'll be their last game together in the 31-year-old Metrodome.
"I'd be lying if I said I don't think about it, but it's not what's on my mind right now," Allen said. "I'm trying to go out the way I want in this Metrodome, and have this last game be something special. Kevin and I talked about it earlier this week, saying we just want to let loose and make it a game to remember, from a win standpoint, from our performances, the crowd, the energy level, all of that."
Allen is a half sack away from his seventh straight season of double-digit sacks as he and Kansas City Chiefs legend Derrick Thomas are tied for 13th all-time with 126.5 career quarterback takedowns. Allen currently holds a half-sack lead over cohort Brian Robison for the team high this season.
Robison, 30, was the first and only of the Vikings' five defensive linemen to sign an extension in the last year of their current tenders when he did so in October. Allen, Williams, defensive tackle Fred Evans and defensive end Everson Griffen all have one game left on their contracts.
"I was just talking with a buddy of mine this morning, just about how different it is this time around," Allen said. "There's no stress. What's going to happen is what's going to happen. When you're younger you're trying to figure out all this craziness."
"So I'm just enjoying the ride, honestly. If this ends up being my last game here, then it's been one of the greatest rides I've ever been on. It's been a great six years."
Wrong side of history
The 2013 Vikings are on pace to make a wrong kind of history.
This year's Vikings have allowed a league-high 31.1 points per game through Week 16. The 1984 team allowed a franchise-high 30.3 points per game when all was said and done.
"You want to go into it to win ball games, not necessarily worry about stats or where you are," Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "We want to make sure we finish up the season with a win over a division opponent and worry about that more than anything."
The Vikings will have to hold the Detroit Lions to 17 points or fewer to avoid setting the franchise-worst record.
Five players were missing from Thursday's practice as the team returned from a one-day break for Christmas.
Linebacker Audie Cole (ankle), running back Toby Gerhart (hamstring), guard Charlie Johnson (personal), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (quadriceps) and cornerback Shaun Prater (ankle) were held out.
Running back Adrian Peterson (groin/foot) practiced after sitting out on Tuesday and was limited. Coach Leslie Frazier was encouraged by Peterson's practice after he pulled the NFL MVP in the third quarter of Sunday's loss at the Bengals.
"[Peterson] did some good things out there, we'll see how he feels tomorrow," Frazier said.
Defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee), linebacker Larry Dean (knee), safety Harrison Smith (foot/groin) and Peterson all were upgraded to limited on Thursday after they were held out Tuesday.
Cornerbacks Chris Cook (knee) and Xavier Rhodes (ankle), along with running back Matt Asiata (ankle) were still limited.
Fullback Jerome Felton (back), cornerback Marcus Sherels (shoulder), receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (chest) and guard Brandon Fusco (knee) were full participants, but remain on the injury report.