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Bishop to visit, but Henderson believes he is Vikes' starter

The SportsXchange

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Erin Henderson insists he will be the Vikings' starting middle linebacker in 2013. The Vikings seem to be thinking otherwise.

While Henderson lined up as the starter on Tuesday for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was finalizing plans to take a long look at former Packers inside linebacker Desmond Bishop during a workout at Winter Park on Wednesday.

Bishop, who was released by the Packers on Monday, missed the entire 2012 regular season after tearing a tendon in his hamstring during the preseason. But he was enough of an impact player in 2011 that Spielman reached out to him immediately after he was cut by the Packers.

Henderson was unfazed by the news when asked about the latest potential challenge to his goal of starting in the middle of the Vikings' 4-3 defense.

"I'm playing the mike," Henderson said after Tuesday's practice.

Henderson, who started at weak-side linebacker in 2011 and 2010, has been saying that consistently since last year's starter, Jasper Brinkley, left via free agency earlier this offseason. Brinkley, a one-dimensional, two-down player, replaced Henderson's older brother, E.J., a starter from 2003 to 2011. The Vikings weren't impressed and let Brinkley leave without making an attempt to re-sign him.

Pre-draft speculation had the Vikings zeroing in on a middle linebacker with one of their two first-round draft picks. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o was considered the likely fit, but the Vikings passed on him not once or twice, but three times when they traded back into the first round. They came out of that round with future or immediate starters at defensive tackle (Sharrif Floyd), cornerback (Xavier Rhodes) and receiver (Cordarrelle Patterson), but the hole at middle linebacker remained.

The Vikings used two fourth-round picks on Penn State linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. But neither was much of a threat to Henderson, at least immediately. Hodges is more of an outside linebacker, while Mauti is still recovering from his third torn anterior cruciate ligament in four years.

Next came speculation that the Vikings were talking with former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher about making one final run in the rival purple colors. That ended when Urlacher announced his retirement from the NFL.

All was quiet. But then Spielman reached out to Bishop. If all goes as the Vikings hope, Bishop will be signed and Henderson will shift back to the weak side. Henderson would accept the change back but clearly desires the increased action that comes with playing in the middle.

In two years as a starter, Henderson has struggled with consistency because he too often veers outside the scheme while trying to do too much. That has led to some embarrassing breakdowns and wide-open holes in the defense when Henderson hasn't been able to make the play outside his area of responsibility.

Henderson thinks he's better suited to play in the middle. And he's not worried about the team's interest in Bishop.

"It's cool," he said. "I hope it goes well for him, and the Vikings like what they see. (I'd) welcome him with open arms, welcome him to the team. ... I have a chance to play Mike now, I don't see why I would let it slip out of my hands or let it go any other way. So that's what my mindset is and that's what I'm thinking."
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