Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole lined up as the linebackers with the first team on Thursday, but it is still way too early to get an indication of who will line up where in Week 1.
For starters, top pick Anthony Barr was not present because UCLA is still in session -- it must be tough for a big man on campus to hang around that campus this time of year -- and he won’t be back on the practice fields at Winter Park until next month’s mandatory minicamp. While head coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t anointed Barr as one starter, that is certainly the early expectation.
Second, the one practice per week or two that media members are allowed to watch is just one snapshot of what the Vikings are up to, and it’s certainly possible that someone such as Gerald Hodges or Michael Mauti has been getting a crack running with the first-team defense, too. After all, Zimmer said Thursday that there is no depth chart now as the coaching staff evaluates the roster.
Plus, meaningful reps in training camp and snaps in the preseason will play a larger role.
Still, one linebackery thing seems clear, and that is that Zimmer has a lot of respect for Greenway, who told reporters he is studying football now more than he ever has.
“That’s good, I like that, I do. It’s important to him,” Zimmer said. “That’s why he has been a good player for a long, long time, because it’s important to him. If we had 90 of those kind of guys we would really be good. I do think our guys are studying a lot and hopefully we are keeping them accountable about knowing what they’re supposed to do all of the time. Yeah, it makes me feel good.”
I don’t know if the Vikings would have their answer at quarterback with 90 Greenways on the roster, but you get the point: Zimmer values the leadership and professionalism Greenway brings.
It will be interesting to see what Zimmer decides to do with Greenway over the next three months. He spent most of Thursday’s practice at one of the outside linebacker spots, but he also got snaps at MIKE linebacker and could ultimately end up filling that void in the middle.
Regardless, Zimmer said that the versatility (or lack thereof) of his linebackers will be a factor as the coaching staff tries to sort out a crowded group and determine who makes the team.
“When you go to the game with six linebackers, you know, something happens they have to be ready to go,” Zimmer said when asked specifically about Greenway’s versatility. “Part of the deal with all of our guys is we are trying to give them a lot of different things to do. I’ve always felt like the more things that you can do the more valuable you are, especially on game day.”