A Closer Look: Middle Man Of The Vikings Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 1, 2012 – 8:47 pm

The 2012 NFL Draft has come and gone, and by most accounts the Vikings had a good few days. Judging from the comments section of the Blog and the emails sent to my inbox, Vikings fans seem to be pleased with their team’s 10 selections, and it’s likely due to the blend of addressing team needs but also finding value in each of the picks.

When you’re coming off a 3-13 season, though, having one solid draft isn’t going to calm all the nerves and fix all the issues. One of the issues on many fans’ radars – again, judging by fan comments and emails – is that of the middle linebacker on the Vikings defense. The Vikings haven’t re-signed E.J. Henderson and they didn’t address LB in the draft until their first of two 7th-round choices.

So who will play middle LB for the Vikings in 2012?

It’s natural to wonder about the return of Henderson because A) there’s no obvious alternative and B) Henderson has been a consummate professional and both a defensive leader and source of inspiration for the entire organization. Henderson has been everything a team can ask of a player, and more. Bringing him back would give many fans a sense of relief and confidence in the position.

But, given the decisions the Vikings have made in the case of veterans such as CB Cedric Griffin, RG Anthony Herrera and LG Steve Hutchinson, and also given the push to build through the draft and acquire young players with upside, it appears re-signing Henderson is not in the plans.

As for a draft pick, the Vikings did take Audie Cole in the 7th round, and while the organization is looking to infuse the roster with youth, I don’t believe the team is counting on Cole to fill the void in 2012.

That leaves Jasper Brinkley as the team’s top candidate to man the middle of the defense. And when all is said and done, it may not be a bad option. Brinkley was selected with a 5th-round pick in 2009 and played special teams while serving as Henderson’s understudy for the first two years of his career. Last year, Brinkley sustained a hip injury that forced the Vikings to place him on the Reserve/Injured list and end his season before it began.

Brinkley appears fully recovered now and he’s poised to take on starting responsibilities. While it’s hard to accept the reality that Henderson is no longer calling the shots for the Vikings defense on the field after so many productive seasons and so many big-time plays, this is the natural progression of the NFL and a necessary step for the Vikings in their quest to build a team that can compete for the long-term.

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