Notebook: Vikings are 'cautiously optimistic' about E.J. Henderson
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Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson joined teammates for stretching, including high-knee work, sideways shuffling and other movements that showed progress in his recovery from a gruesome broken leg.
Henderson, who was injured Dec. 6 at Arizona, was part of a group of veterans who left the field when individual drills began and didn't speak with reporters. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said the team is "cautiously optimistic" with the eighth-year pro.
"He's making progress," Frazier said. "He's actually ahead of schedule in a lot of areas. We all got our fingers crossed. It would be so good to see him lined up against the Saints in that first ballgame (on Sept. 9). We just have to wait and see. He's moving right along."
Unlike last week, when 29 players were absent for the first organized team activity practice open to reporters, just a dozen weren't in sight today.
The only non-rookies absent were: quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tarvaris Jackson; receivers Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian; cornerback Antoine Winfield; running back Adrian Peterson; end Jared Allen; and end Ray Edwards, who still hasn't signed his restricted free-agent tender.
Another group of veterans -- including defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams and the entire starting offensive line -- went inside after stretching and weren't available to reporters. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie and right guard Anthony Herrera later reemerged to participate in group and team drills.
"You see a lot of us go inside, do some extra work -- cardio, lift weights and stuff -- and let these young guys work on footwork and technique," McKinnie said.
Frazier said the latest developments in his starting defensive tackles' appeal of their four-game suspensions were "a major relief."
A legal ruling last week all but guaranteed the StarCaps case will remain tied up in the courts through this season, as it has been since the suspensions first were handed down in 2008.
"You don't want to go into any football season without those two guys," Frazier said. "One is for sure a future Hall of Famer, another one is a potential Hall of Famer. We've got some good players in backup roles, but they're not Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.
"It's a bit of a relief. And hopefully things will work out where we do have them. There are still some things going on. It's not completely over but it's looking pretty good."
Special teams coordinator Brian Murphy made clear kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd -- the former Gopher signed as a street free agent after being nontendered by Carolina -- isn't guaranteed a roster spot.
"He will start off as our kickoff man and we will see where it goes from there," Murphy said. "It will be good competition for both he and Ryan (Longwell)."
Longwell attended today's practice, but Lloyd handled field goals and was 9-for-9, with a long of 50 yards. Lloyd never has attempted an NFL field goal but racked up 51 touchbacks over the past two seasons -- 40 more than Longwell.
"Ryan is a very good kicker," Murphy said. "He just finished Year 13 and going into Year 14. Since he has been in Minnesota, he has had the best years of his career here. To kick over 90 percent on your field goals and kick off the way he did, he is at his peak right now. We are not taking anything away from Ryan Longwell."
A team (11-on-11) goal-line drill began with veteran cornerback Lito Sheppard getting inside position against receiver Taye Biddle on a fade route to make the pick. And shortly after, rookie cornerback Marcus Sherels picked off an in-breaking route for Biddle -- the fifth interception in a matter of minutes.
• Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said he didn't have any reaction to QB Brett Favre's ankle surgery, only has spoken with the veteran occasionally since last season ended and has no idea when Favre will begin working out in Mississippi. "He likes to do things his kind of way and surprises everybody," Bevell said.
• Frazier said he believes the Vikings have their starting safeties in Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson but wouldn't rule out No. 3 Jamarca Sanford -- who has gotten some work with the first team -- or Husain Abdulah making a push for either spot.
• Second-round draft pick Toby Gerhart remains in California because his school remains in session and won't join the Vikings until next month's minicamp, but Bevell indicated he's not concerned. "We are fortunate that Stanford runs a similar offense, so when he came in here for rookie minicamp he was able to pick things up quick," Bevell said. "Obviously, he's from Stanford and has a great mind. The offense was similar, so some of the things that he did, he was able to step in and run it right away because he's had multiple reps on it, so I think that will help him, but as any guy that is not here we would like to have them here and be able to put them through our workouts."