Henderson feels all grown up

He's eager to join older brother, band of other ex-UM linebackers

Draft

April 21, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

The physical differences between E.J. and Erin Henderson are mostly subtle, mostly slight. Six years, maybe five pounds and perhaps two inches are all that really separate these football-playing brothers.

Personality, now that's a night-and-day story.

"He's a little more introverted, I'm a little more extroverted," Erin said when he met with reporters in February at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis.

That became apparent with the next question. How long did it take to get the reserved E.J. out of his shell?

"It took me about 15 years just to get him to talk to me," Erin said to laughter all around.

Ever since E.J. left Aberdeen to pursue a college career at Maryland in 1998, Erin has been following in his footsteps. First at College Park, where Erin had a distinguished, albeit shorter, career; now in the NFL, where E.J. has spent the past five years with the Minnesota Vikings.

This weekend, Erin Henderson, 21, is expected to become the fifth Terp in six years to be drafted into the NFL as a linebacker, joining E.J. (2003), Leon Joe (2004), Shawne Merriman (2005) and D'Qwell Jackson (2006).

Considering the Terps also are represented by former linebackers Eric Barton, William Kershaw and David Holloway in the NFL, it has become a prestigious club.

"It's a great thing to be part of," the younger Henderson said last week. "It's really exciting to carry on that legacy. All those guys are pretty successful in the NFL, and I'm gonna be a great linebacker."

Henderson arrives after playing just two seasons at Maryland. A knee injury cost him his redshirt freshman year, and he passed up his senior year after getting a degree in communications in December.

Some think he would have benefited from another college season.

"Henderson would have been better served, in my opinion, by going back to Maryland for another year," Mel Kiper Jr. said in an e-mail. "My feeling is that unless you're a first-round pick, why leave early?"

Kiper, Baltimore native and ESPN draft analyst, gave Henderson a fourth-round grade in his annual draft report, but expects him to go early on the second day. (In the NFL's revised format, rounds three through seven will be on Sunday.)

When Terps coach Ralph Friedgen asked the NFL for an evaluation last season, the draft advisory board projected Henderson going in the third round. But there was no consensus.

"The majority of people said he'd be a second-round pick," said Friedgen, who has consulted at least four NFL general managers about Henderson. "The way I look at it, if you stay and move into the first round, it's a lot more money. It's such a difficult decision."

After consulting several former teammates and his brother, Henderson decided the time was right.

"People don't understand everything you have to do in college," he said. "It was wearing me down. My brother already made it to the NFL, and he took care of the family. It wasn't a financial decision at all for me. Money wasn't an issue even when we didn't have any."

Henderson led the Atlantic Coast Conference in tackles in 2007 and totaled 247 in two years. E.J. played four years, and was the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus Award winner in 2002. The older Henderson was taken by the Vikings in the second round.

Al Seamonson, the Terps' outside linebackers coach, concedes E.J. had the better college career. But he thinks Erin, who is taller and more athletic, might have a better pro career.

"When E.J. first went into the NFL, he struggled a little bit and now has developed into a standout player," Seamonson said. "I would expect Erin to go through the same process. He may struggle early, but his potential for development should be as good if not better than E.J."

It's unclear whether Erin Henderson will be more attractive to a 4-3 defensive team or a 3-4 team. The Terps played him at weak-side linebacker. He said he had his most success playing between the tackles.

"Erin's a good enough athlete, he can fit in a lot of different schemes," Friedgen said. "And he's a bright guy, so he can play multiple positions."

Henderson will watch the draft from the family home in Aberdeen, hoping for the best, hoping for the second round.

"There's always a chance I'll slide to the third round," he said. "I just want a chance to get in the NFL and play. I know I'll be a great player when I get there."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

ERIN HENDERSON

Age: 21

Size: 6 feet 2 1/2 , 242 pounds

Hometown: Aberdeen

High school: Played quarterback and linebacker. Threw for 1,580 yards and 20 touchdowns on 155 pass attempts in 2003, leading Aberdeen to its first state title. Shared The Sun's All-Metro co-Offensive Player of the Year honors.

College: Recruited by Maryland at quarterback; moved to linebacker in his freshman year. Knee injury wiped out his 2005 season. Started the next two seasons, was All-ACC as a junior in 2007.

Draft projection: Between late second round and early fourth.

NFL player he thinks he's most like: Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, "with that intensity he brings to the game."

Future beyond football: Wants to become a broadcaster.

KEN MURRAY

NFL DRAFT

When: Saturday, 3 p.m., rounds 1-2; Sunday, 10 a.m.; rounds 3-7.

Where: Radio City Music Hall, New York

TV: NFL Network, ESPN and ESPN2

RAVENS PICKS

Round 1: Pick 8 (8th)

Round 2: Pick 7 (38th)

Round 3: Pick 36 (99th)

Round 4: Pick 7 (106th)

Round 4: Pick 34 (133rd)

Round 6: Pick 7 (173rd)

Round 6: Pick 40 (206th)

Round 7: Pick 8 (215th)

Round 7: Pick 33 (240th)

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