This week on the vikings.com Blog, we’re breaking down the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – this Saturday night in Tennessee – approaches. We’ve already looked at the offensive line, defensive line, tight ends, defensive backs and wide receivers. Up next: the linebackers.
The Vikings LB corps will welcome one new starter and will have a new position coach in 2011. But the presence of veterans Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson brings so much stability to the position that those two transitions will be a piece of cake. Add in the fact that the new position coach is Hall of Famer Mike Singletary and the new starter is E.J. Henderson’s younger brother, Erin, and you can see the Vikings LB group is in great shape.
Greenway and Henderson have starting positions in both the base and nickel packages on lockdown. Both guys have been tackling machines during their Vikings careers and you can expect more of the same in 2011, especially if new DT Remi Ayodele can be the run-stuffer everyone expects. Talented run-stuffing DTs, such as Kevin Williams and Ayodele, help to protect LBs from offensive linemen and allow those LBs to collect bunches of tackles.
It’s going to take quite the combination of events to wrestle the third starting spot away from Erin Henderson. He’s worked his way up the roster, beginning as an undrafted rookie free agent and eventually improving so much that the Vikings felt comfortable with allowing Ben Leber to leave via free agency so Henderson could fill the vacated role.
As solid as those three starters are going to be for the Vikings, the depth behind them is just as strong. Jasper Brinkley, who filled in admirably for Henderson during the Vikings run to the NFC title game in 2009, continues to develop and will be the backup middle (MIKE) LB. He’s also getting some run at Erin Henderson’s spot with the first-team defense. Heath Farwell is another who is firmly entrenched on the second-team and will of course be a pillar of the special teams unit.
In the nickel packages, Greenway and E.J. Henderson are on the first-team. Brinkley has played on second-team nickel with Farwell and Erin Henderson splitting reps.
An obvious omission from the discussion so far is Kenny Onatolu. He’s another special teams ace who will be a key reserve in the LB group, but he hasn’t participated much in training camp to date because of a foot injury. Even without camp, I think Onatolu has shown enough during his time with the Vikings that coaches will give him every opportunity to earn a roster spot once he is able to practice again.
In the meantime, rookie Ross Homan is taking the reps that Onatolu would normally see. He might be a smidgen undersized, but Homan is an instinctual player with a ton of grit and perhaps some special teams capability. After that, the Vikings have Larry Dean, Jonathan Gilmore and Mark Washington battling for time.
As is the case with every position we’ve analyze in this series, the depth chart still has some fluidity to it. Singletary and the defensive staff are still experimenting with different combinations and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer could have some say in the matter also. Because of their aggressiveness and athleticism, LBs are typically a major part of special teams groups.
Tags: Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson, Mike Singletary
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