Much like the rest of the team, the Minnesota Vikings line backing core struggled mightily with inconsistencies and bad play. It seemed as if they were always a step late. Gone is the mainstay middle linebacker Ej Henderson. Finding his replacement and getting better play from the starters is something that must happen if the Vikings are to return to a good defensive team. While they did not play horribly against the run, the backers did miss assignments in inopportune times and contributed to the worst pass defense in the NFL.
52 Greenway, Chad LB 6-2 242 29
Chad Greenway is a pro bowl caliber LB and the leader of the group. The former first round pick does everything well. While his play dropped a bit this year he still performed at an above average level. Consistent and reliable if nothing else the Vikings defensive success will be directly tied to his impact from down to down. If the Vikings are to recapture the top run defense in the league he will play a vital role. Blessed with good size speed and instinct Greenway is one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the game. He will perform well next year.
50 Henderson, Erin LB 6-3 244 25
Henderson is the definition of a self-made linebacker. The former undrafted outside backer from Maryland took the less scenic route to the Vikings. Passed over by every team for seven rounds, Henderson decided to sign with the Vikings. He was undrafted but not short on talent. The knock on him coming out was more injury concern then anything. He made the team in his rookie season and never looked back. In his first season as a starter Henderson performed admirably. The Vikings defense as a whole spent the majority of the season out of position and Erin was no different. Going into his second season he has a few things to work on before he can become a complete player but his future is promising. Erin is one I the youngsters that Vikings fan should be excited about.
54 Brinkley, Jasper LB 6-1 252 26
Two years ago the Vikings were faced with a Dilemma (or so it seemed). . Their starting defensive end had just signed with the Falcons and the media made a huge deal about his unproven back up. It turns out the front office made the right decision by resigning Brian Robison. Jasper Brinkley is in a similar situation. Brinkley was a standout Sec linebacker coming off of an injury and Spielman took a chance. He got his chance to show his worth early in his career when EJ Henderson went down against Arizona. He played well enough to guide his defense throughout the remainder of the season and the playoffs only to see them lose the NFC championship on last second field goal. An excellent run stuffer with great size and good speed Brinkley has to improve his pass coverage like many other young linebackers in this league. Brinkley is the front runner for the middle linebacker job and I have a feeling he will do fine there.
57 Cole, Audie LB 6-5 239 23
Way back in February the Vikings coaches fell in love with Cole. Great Size and toughness with the ability to play multiple positions is his calling card. Cole is a linebacker that will succeed but will need some time to mature. He was an absolute steal in the seventh round but the expectations for this year but be tempered. Under the tutelage of Pugac and Singletary Cole will have every resource needed to become a good player.
51 Dean, Larry LB 6-0 226 23
Dean is an undersized, undrafted linebacker. He is exceptionally quick and diagnoses plays quickly. He was asked to make the jump from a FCS school so his development took a bit longer. He contributed on special teams last year and much of the same should be expected this year. He is a guy you can't count out; however so don't be surprised if you hear his name a lot this season.
59 Elimimian, Solomon LB 6-0 227 25
Elimimian is a former CFL standout known for his hitting ability and quick diagnoses. He stands a real chance of making the roster due to sheer lack of numbers. His mark will likely be made on special teams early, but he is a good player. He left for the CFL after a brief stint in the NFL to polish his game and he is back. While not common there are some successful stories similar to his. This is a name that intrigues.
59 McKenzie, Tyrone OLB 6-2 245 26
McKenzie has spent much of his brief career as a reserve. His rookie season he tore his ACL and has been a journeyman since. He is an athletic linebacker blessed with speed and agility but does not hold up well at the point of attack. His biggest obstacle will to remain healthy enough to show that he belongs
50 Mitchell, Marvin LB 6-3 249 27
Mitchell is a backup that came over from the Miami Dolphins. A former 5 star recruit, he is not short on talent. He is a veteran so he will compete for a roster spot and have an edge in the experience category.
45 Nielsen, Tyler LB 6-4 235 24
Nielsen is an Iowa product so he has a chance. Under publicized Iowa defensive players always find a way to make an impact early. He is a 235 pound linebacker with 4.5 speed that just does his job not unlike Henderson or Greenway. He is another name that should generate some intrigue throughout camp. Outside of the Top Three guys it is a wide open race for a spot.
The line backing core was not drastically upgraded if at all. In order for the unit to improve each of these individuals must show progress. The extremely young group will have to lean on Greenway's leadership early and mature rapidly. The depth doesn't seem to be up to par but a lot remains to be seen. This could be one of the weakest position groups for the Vikings.