The Minnesota Vikings enter training camp with most of their 53-man roster firmly established, and there’s little question who will start Week 1 against the Detroit Lions as long as injuries don’t become a significant factor during the preseason.
But linebacker is one position on the Vikings’ roster where depth was a concern in 2012, and the offseason departure of middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley created further questions. But they did not address their need at linebacker during April’s draft until the later rounds, and no bold moves were made in free agency prior to that.
Chad Greenway is firmly entrenched at strong side linebacker for Minnesota as he comes off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, but who will be the team’s other two starting linebackers?
Once the draft did not yield Manti Te’o or another linebacker in the early rounds, Erin Henderson almost immediately became the leading candidate to replace Brinkley in the middle. He played primarily on the weakside last season, but he took all the first-team reps at middle linebacker during offseason work and reportedly added weight in preparation for a full-time move. Rumors surrounding the Vikings and Brian Urlacher went away when Urlacher retired, so Henderson again looked likely to be the clear-cut starting middle linebacker entering camp.
But the Green Bay Packers released Desmond Bishop in June, and the Vikings were almost immediately mentioned as a potential suitor. After visits with a couple other teams, Bishop wound up coming back to Minnesota and the team signed him to a very low-risk contract. Of course the key issue for Bishop is health after missing all of last season with a torn hamstring, but he was clearly not brought in to be a backup, whether he ends up at middle linebacker or on the weak side.
2012 seventh-round pick Audie Cole and 2013 draft picks Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti could also be in the mix, along with veterans Marvin Mitchell and Tyrone McKenzie, but as long as Henderson and Bishop are healthy all five are more likely to battle for roster spots than starting jobs during training camp.
Middle linebacker is a key position in Minnesota’s base Cover-2 defense, particularly from a pass coverage standpoint, so sorting that out is a top priority right now. At the very least, Bishop’s presence adds depth and competition to a position group that sorely needed both.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.