With the latest speculation about the potential of signing Brian Urlacher being put to rest by head coach Leslie Frazier, the Minnesota Vikings look certain to head into training camp with a competition for the starting job at middle linebacker. The current frontrunner to take over for the departed Jasper Brinkley is Erin Henderson, who would move over from the weak side but is the most experienced linebacker Minnesota has after Chad Greenway. Henderson’s potential competition includes a rookie (Michael Mauti), a 2012 draft pick (Audie Cole) and Tyrone McKenzie, who spent the 2011 season on Minnesota’s practice squad and was active for all 16 games last season as predominantly a special teamer.
Barring injury, Henderson could take hold of the starting job in the middle and render any potential training camp battle a moot point. McKenzie faces steep odds to even earn a spot on the Vikings’ 53-man roster with Gerald Hodges also being added in April’s draft, but could he surprise everyone and earn a starting job?
McKenzie was drafted in the third-round (97th overall) in 2009 by the New England Patriots, but he suffered a torn right ACL during rookie minicamp and eventually asked for his release from the Patriots’ practice squad. He played three games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2010, and then was waived in September of 2011 before landing in Minnesota.
McKenzie had a solid final two collegiate seasons (2007 and 2008) at South Florida, with 237 combined tackles, and if not for his knee injury it’s fair to think he could have become an immediate contributor at the NFL level. Simply put, McKenzie has never gotten a significant opportunity to play and at age 27 may still have something to offer. Whether he gets a real chance to earn a bigger role for the Vikings in 2013 is still a question, but in this case it’s ok to root for the perceived underdog.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.