The Vikings' search for depth at weak-side linebacker went in an unexpected direction Monday when 6-3, 273-pound defensive end Everson Griffen spent a part of the team's practice at the position.
If everything goes according to coach Leslie Frazier's plan, Griffen will see time there Thursday night when the Vikings wrap up the preseason with a game against the Houston Texans at Mall of America Field.
"We have some packages where we want him to stand up sometimes," Frazier said. "We thought this would give him an opportunity to get comfortable doing that when we go to some of those packages."
Griffen, who had some limited exposure to linebacker in high school and at Southern Cal, said he's on board.
"I'm just out here trying to make the team, and, you know, I don't mind playing a little standup," he said. "I like that position."
Frazier said the move is purely for depth reasons and not an indication the team isn't sold on Erin Henderson as the starter. Attempts to create competition for Henderson have fallen through. Kenny Onatolu has missed most of the practices and all the preseason games because of a stress fracture in his left foot. Jasper Brinkley has a hip injury and has now been sent to a specialist, Frazier said Monday. Linebackers Heath Farwell (hamstring) and Ross Homan (concussion) also have missed time.
When Henderson had a helmet malfunction in Saturday night's loss to the Cowboys, the Vikings had no choice but to send in David Herron for a play. Herron, who was signed the day before, was lost in zone coverage on a completion that went for 25 yards.
The move to linebacker also is a way to explore some position flexibility for the athletic Griffen and rookie defensive lineman Christian Ballard, whose role with the team expands by the week. Ballard, who has played the three-technique tackle and the nose in the nickel defense, will get a look at defensive end in Thursday's game.
Meanwhile, Griffen needs an expanded role because he plays behind a guy, right end Jared Allen, who takes more than 90 percent of the snaps.
"A guy that weighs 270 pounds, runs a 4.6 or 4.5 40, he's just a tremendous athlete with good football intelligence," Frazier said of Griffen. "He has some playmaking abilities, so we want to utilize his athletic ability."
Griffen would be heavy for the position, but he's not worried about foot speed. He's more focused on learning his new assignments.
"For my size, I'm pretty versatile," Griffen said. "I can play down, I can play up. They asked me, I'm going to try it out and see how it works out. Whatever they want me to do, it's all about coach Frazier and the team making us right, making us better."