Chidress: Henderson in 'good spirits'

Updated: December 7, 2009, 7:48 PM ET
Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings know that injuries are a way of life in the NFL. They happen and teams move on.

Yet many of the most hardened veterans were still shaken on Monday, less than 24 hours after middle linebacker E.J. Henderson broke his left leg in chilling fashion against the Arizona Cardinals.

"It's a sick and gruesome reminder of how violent the game can be," linebacker Ben Leber said. "You sometimes, a lot of times, forget about it. You don't think about it. It is a painful reminder of what this game's about."

Henderson was injured in the fourth quarter of a 30-17 loss to the Cardinals. As he chased down running back Tim Hightower, Henderson collided with safety Jamarca Sanford. The captain, an immensely respected leader of a proud veteran defense, went airborne with his left leg flopping brutally to the ground.

He was taken off the field on a stretcher with his younger brother and teammate Erin, who was inactive for the game, clutching his hands and offering support.

Henderson remained in intensive care at a Phoenix hospital following surgery and coach Brad Childress said he hoped Henderson would return home by the end of the week. Childress said the surgery went well and Henderson was in "good spirits" on Monday.

He may have been the only one.

The Vikings (10-2) were dominated by the Cardinals on Sunday night, though the horrific nature of Henderson's injury overshadowed their first loss in six games.

"It's just a vicious injury and something you never want to see happen to anybody, specifically, somebody that's on your team and somebody that is playing beside you all the time," linebacker Chad Greenway said.

Some players were near tears in the locker room after the game, feeling sympathy for a player who had worked so hard to get back after missing 12 games last season with a foot injury. Henderson got off to a slow start this season, but had played well in the last month as the Vikings piled up the victories. He was the team's leading tackler, and had 10 more on Sunday before he was injured.

"Going through what he went through last year, kind of just a quirky injury that held him out, I saw how much it hurt him," Leber said. "He battled back and did everything right all the way through the offseason. He was having another tremendous year. I was just sickened for him. To lose a player like that and a friend like that was hard."

Childress said rookie fifth-round draft pick Jasper Brinkley will fill in for Henderson in Minnesota's base defense, beginning Sunday against Cincinnati. After Henderson went down last year, the Vikings played more of their nickel package, with Greenway and Leber the only two linebackers on the field. That could happen again this time around.

"He's a great rallying force," Childress said of Henderson. "He's a good football player. He's a good leader; a quiet leader. But you get past that.

"You may not replace him physically, but you do get past that. You have to get past it because we have a quarter of the regular season left."

The question is, will Henderson get past it? The nastiness of the broken femur has some wondering if he will ever make it back on the field. Childress said there was no timeline yet for his return.

"You never know. Something like that it's unfortunately so bad you have to actually ask those questions," Greenway said. "But the way he is, he's one of the tougher guys I've ever been around. ... so God willing he'll be able to heal well and get back in due time. And I know the organization we have, they'll support him and be behind him because that's just the kind of people they are."

Leber was more emphatic.

"Oh yeah without a doubt," Leber said. "We don't know right now how long. But knowing his personality and what he's been through, he'll be back. This is not a career-ending type of deal. He'll be back for sure."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press