NFL Nation: David Herron
Linebacker Napoleon Harris returned to Minnesota in a late-night transaction Wednesday and should be in uniform for practice Thursday, the second ex-Vikings linebacker to sign with the team this week. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune have details.
Harris and Dontarrious Thomas have re-fortified the team's depth after injuries to E.J. Henderson (toes) and David Herron (ankle, head). (This summer, backup Heath Farwell was lost for the season because of a knee injury). It also wouldn't be surprising if either Harris or Thomas starts at middle linebacker Sunday at Chicago; the Vikings' other option there is special teams player Vinny Ciurciu.
Harris was originally scheduled to visit Detroit first after Kansas City released him Tuesday, but the Vikings represent a better option on many levels. Harris' best seasons in the NFL have come under Vikings linebacker coach Fred Pagac, who also coached Harris in Oakland, and his best NFL season came in 2006 when the Vikings moved him to middle linebacker.
Minnesota officials opted not to re-sign him during the offseason, instead sliding Henderson to the middle. But Harris knows the Vikings' defense well enough that he can be more than an emergency pickup. The Chiefs obviously were down on Harris, deactivating him for every game this season, but the Vikings can't afford to be picky right now at one of the most important defensive positions.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- There was no resolution Wednesday to the odd situation between Minnesota and fullback Thomas Tapeh. Speaking after practice, Tapeh indicated he had been told not to discuss the situation publicly. Typically, a player on the verge of release wouldn't be allowed to practice for fear of injury. Zulgad reports details in the Star Tribune.
- Injured Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna continued criticizing the Lions' decision to place him on injured reserve Wednesday. Speaking on WJR-AM in Detroit, Kitna said in reality he was benched and could have played later this season: "They decided they wanted to go in a different direction. And I guess the thing for me is, that's fine. Let's just say that." The Lions have to be careful because NFL rules require them to document Kitna would have missed six games because of his back injury before placing him on IR.
- Rob Parker of the Detroit News writes the Lions aren't fooling anybody by saying they haven't given up on the season: "It would have been refreshing to hear the Lions face their situation honestly and admit they failed miserably this season."
- Chicago defensive tackle Tommie Harris joked Wednesday that he got high school star Adrian Peterson to commit to Oklahoma by promising he would return for his senior season in 2004. As recounted by John Mullin of the Chicago Tribune, Harris entered the NFL draft instead. Peterson and Harris will square off Sunday at Soldier Field.
- The Bears are still working through their injury situation in the defensive backfield. One possibility for the nickel back position is rookie safety Craig Steltz, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Green Bay defensive tackle Justin Harrell was highly motivated Wednesday in his first full practice of the season, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "You don't want anybody talking bad about you," Harrell said. "All the people that said I was a bust, that's the kind of stuff that gives you added motivation to go out there and prove them wrong."
- Packers receiver Greg Jennings is on pace for the NFL's highest total of receiving yards since 1995. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel breaks down Jennings' first six games.
In my book, Henderson ranks with tailback Adrian Peterson and cornerback Antoine Winfield as the three most difficult players to replace on the Vikings' roster. Henderson doesn't have the kind of national profile Peterson and Winfield have, but he's every bit as important to the team. The season-ending nature of his left foot injury is one of the most devastating bits of roster news the Vikings could have suffered.
Those who have watched Henderson's six-year career have seen him develop, step-by-step, into one of the better middle linebackers in the NFC. He has great instincts, trusts them to get a head start on chasing the ball and has improved enough as a pass defender to be included in the Vikings' nickel defense.
An introvert by nature, Henderson also has worked hard to develop enough authority to be a defensive captain and call all of the Vikings' defensive signals. The Vikings really don't have a natural replacement for him and will split his duties among as many as three different players: Second-year player David Herron will get the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but veteran Ben Leber -- who plays on the strong side -- will call the signals and there might be some changes in nickel situations as well.
This arrangement will help the Vikings piece together Henderson's duties, but there is simply no way they'll replace him. Their defense will be less effective without him.
Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson's left foot is so swollen that the team's medical staff hasn't been able to fully assess his condition, which includes two dislocated toes. That situation suggested a long-term absence from the lineup, and Saturday the Star Tribune reported Henderson will miss at least a month.
The absence is a huge blow for the Vikings, who consider Henderson a Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker and named him a defensive captain prior to the season. He'll be replaced by second-year player David Herron, but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Friday that strong-side linebacker Ben Leber will take most of the playcalls from the sideline.
Surgery is an option for Henderson once the swelling subsides, according to the Star Tribune's Judd Zulgad. In his previous five seasons, Henderson played in 79 of a possible 82 games.
Elsewhere around the NFC North on this fall Saturday:
- Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, writing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, says the team "is going to have [its] chances to make plays" Monday night at New Orleans.
- After observing the week of practice in Green Bay, veteran Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Pete Dougherty writes: "Aaron Rodgers' chances of playing Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons look shaky at best heading into the weekend because of his injured throwing shoulder." Officially, Rodgers is considered a game-time decision but it appears Matt Flynn will be the first rookie to start at quarterback for the Packers since Don Majkowski in 1987.
- The Packers expect Atlanta to force-feed the ball to tailback Michael Turner, especially if linebacker A.J. Hawk (groin) is unable to play. Hawk's status is questionable at best, according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and he likely will miss the first game of his NFL career.
- There have been some rumors that Detroit will trade receiver Roy Williams prior to the Oct. 14 trading deadline, but Williams said Friday he might not fetch the ransom some people think he would. "I don't even know if I'm worth a first-round pick, to be honest," Williams told John Niyo of the Detroit News. "That's what the fans don't understand. I might be a second- or third-round pick."
- The Lions have moved cornerback Leigh Bodden to the left side, while Brian Kelly and Travis Fisher will hold down the right side. Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press puts the move in perspective.
- The Chicago Sun-Times gauged reaction to the one-game suspension of defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Most players were not alarmed because they know coach Lovie Smith doesn't have a quick disciplinary trigger. "I don't think anyone's above the law here, no matter who you are," said cornerback Charles Tillman. "[Smith] treats everybody the same, which is a good thing."
- Brad Biggs of the Sun-Times predicts Tillman (shoulder) will play Sunday at Detroit. Fellow cornerback Nate Vasher, who like Tillman is also listed as questionable, is hopeful he will play.
It was interesting to read the Bears coverage Wednesday morning in Chicago's two major newspapers.
Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times chronicled the high number of carries for rookie tailback Matt Forte this season. Meanwhile, Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune profiled backup tailback Kevin Jones -- who just happens to be facing his former team Sunday in Detroit.
Is it time for Jones to start easing Forte's load? That might not be a bad idea for the long haul, assuming the Bears are comfortable with Jones' recovery from offseason knee surgery.
Forte has an NFL-high 92 carries in four games, six more than Kansas City's Larry Johnson, and also leads the Bears with 18 receptions. Forte is on pace to rush 368 times this season, putting him dangerously close to the 370 mark that historically has caused problems for running backs. Mulligan details a study by Football Outsiders that suggests tailbacks who get at least 370 carries in a season face a greater risk for injury and typically see their production the following year drop by 35 percent.
Enter Jones, who has 71 yards on 20 carries this season. Players who tear an ACL typically need a full year to return to their previous strength, but there is some hope that he will be able to provide more consistent relief for Forte. On Sunday, Jones will face the Lions and said: "Most of all I want to beat them. No way I want their first win to be on us."
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- Green Bay officials moved quickly to add depth at defensive end after learning of Cullen Jenkins' season-ending chest injury. The Packers signed free agent Kenneth Pettway, who was with former Jacksonville teammate Richard Collier last month during the shooting that left Collier paralyzed from the waist down. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has details.
- Packers coaches have been impressed by how fast rookie quarterback Matt Flynn developed a rapport with his offensive teammates, according to Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, for one, said: "[He] seems to have a little chemistry with some guys. Nothing seemed to be too big for him. He didn't seem to be intimidated by anything and obviously he's played in some big games himself and so I think those are some of the traits we observed that impressed us as a staff."
- David Herron, the linebacker who might replace injured Minnesota starter E.J. Henderson, was once the blocking fullback for Maurice Clarett at Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio. Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune tells his story.
- Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press examines the Vikings' pass rush. The team has seven sacks in four games, good for No. 19 in the NFL.
- Several Lions players are hinting that some offensive wrinkles could be employed Sunday against the Bears, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- Jon Kitna is on borrowed time with the Lions, writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press.
Saturday is the NFL's official roster cutdown day. But the best story might be that of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who revealed Friday that his personal absences from training camp this summer were due to the serious heart condition of his six-month-old daughter, Tiana.
As David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes, Tiana Tillman was rushed to a Chicago-area hospital May 20 because of an enlarged heart. She was kept alive with a device known as a Berlin Heart -- an external pump that maintains blood flow in cases of a damaged heart -- until finally receiving a heart transplant July 31.
Tiana must remain on medication for the rest of her life, but Tillman said: "She'll be a normal kid. She can ride a bike, play little league soccer if she wants to. I'm optimistic. This has made us stronger as a family."
At a news conference Friday, Tillman urged citizens to register as an organ donor. Sounds like a noble cause to us.
Moving back on the field in the NFC North:
- In addition to the players listed on Friday's post, the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears have told long-snapper Thomas Gafford he will be released.
- Gafford could return to the Green Bay Packers, whose current long-snapper, J.J. Jansen, was diagnosed Friday with a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his left knee, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The injury isn't serious, but it's not clear whether Jansen can recover in time to play in the Sept. 8 season opener against Minnesota.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers a position-by-position analysis of the Packers. It includes this highlight: "Matt Flynn clearly was the second-best passer in camp." Flynn and Brian Brohm were competing for the No. 2 quarterback job behind starter Aaron Rodgers.
- In addition to the players listed on Friday's post, the Star Tribune reports the Vikings will also release linebacker Rufus Alexander and David Herron.
- Six of the Detroit Lions' eight draft picks are expected to make the team, according to the Detroit Free Press.
- Running back Artose Pinner hopes his performance Thursday night -- 78 yards on 23 carries at Buffalo -- convinces the Lions he is worth keeping on the roster for insurance purposes.