MANKATO — As far as Erin Henderson is concerned, there's never been a shadow for him to step out of.
While he may be following the path of his brother, E.J. Henderson, the Vikings' linebacker doesn't sweat the comparisons.
"I've never really looked at it like that," Erin Henderson said. "I felt there are bigger fish to fry than to try to get out of my brother's shadow. I mean my brother was a hell of a ball player; it's not that bad to (hear), 'You have similarities,' or, 'You guys do things in a like way and a like manner.' It's not a bad comparison to have."
The two brothers played together for four seasons, including 2010 when E.J. made the Pro Bowl. The older brother, a second-round draft pick has been out of football since 2011. The undrafted Erin, now in his sixth NFL season, is starting training camp as the Vikings' starting middle linebacker, a position E.J. patrolled for most of his career.
"I'm never going to be upset about (the comparison) or try to run away from it or try to hide from it or anything else," Erin said. "But at the same time you get to that point where you're like, 'OK, that's Erin out there making plays. Give Erin some credit for what Erin is doing.' It doesn't always have to come back to the big brother thing."
Henderson said his brother was a great help to him in the days in which they played together. He made it clear that he didn't necessarily follow E.J. to Minnesota; the Vikings were the team with the contract offer and the team that gave him the chance to play.
"It was great that I had a chance to come here and have somebody that could be a mentor to me and somebody that could look out for me on and off the field and kind of show me the ropes of how to be a professional and how to go about things without the other biases that go along with dealing with somebody that you're competing against or somebody you're fighting with for a starting spot ..." the younger Henderson said. "I think that was big for us and definitely huge for me as a person — as a man and as a football player."
In his first season without his brother around, Henderson started 10 games for the Vikings at outside linebacker and finished the season with a career-high 80 tackles in 14 games. He also had a career-high three sacks.
In the offseason, the Vikings moved him to the middle. He embraced the role, even adding a little weight — he's listed at 244 and said the Vikings don't want him over 248 — for the extra banging that goes on inside.
The Vikings also added free agent Desmond Bishop, who was an inside linebacker for the Packers. However, Henderson remained in the middle, while Bishop is beginning camp on the outside.
Henderson said he wants to show that coach Leslie Frazier and the defensive staff made the right decision to put him — and keep him — in the middle.
"Coach Frazier, he's like a father figure to us," Henderson said. "A lot of times you look at your dad or see somebody you view in that way, you never want to let them down.
"So once he gives you that vote of confidence and he says, 'He's going to be our middle linebacker until otherwise or until something else happens,' I have to go out there and now it's my turn."
Frazier said Henderson shouldn't worry about who's behind him on the depth chart or who's along side him on the field. He needs to concentrate on his own game and the extra responsibilities that go with playing middle linebacker. And those are coming along nicely after a week of training camp, the coach said.
"He's done some impressive things," Frazier said. "He had some opportunities (Thursday) in our live scrimmage... to make some open-field tackles, and he did. I like the leadership that he's shown, and he's beginning to mature, I think, in that role."
Frazier said middle linebacker is considered an on-field extension of the defensive coordinator, and Henderson is learning to handle that part of it as well, including answering questions his teammates ask.
Perhaps he's the big brother on the field now.
"It's different than playing outside linebacker," Frazier said. "When you're the middle linebacker, everybody's looking at you for leadership. And I think he's grown into that role."