Vikings likely to look for help at linebacker

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2012 - 12:31 AM
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Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson.

Photo: Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

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INDIANAPOLIS — Of all the positions the Vikings need to upgrade this offseason, linebacker isn't often mentioned at the top of the conversation. After all, the deficiencies in the secondary, in the receiving corps and on the offensive line clearly need heightened attention.

But it is worth noting that the Vikings' linebacking corps isn't completely stable, especially with the contracts of starters E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson due to expire 16 days from now.

There is no guarantee either Henderson will be back in 2012. Based on age and price tag, Erin might fit General Manager Rick Spielman's long-term vision better.

Yet, if by some chance both Hendersons were to move on, the Vikings suddenly would possess a linebacking unit featuring Pro Bowler Chad Greenway and an otherwise ordinary supporting cast.

On the bright side, Jasper Brinkley will return for 2012 after missing last season because of a hip injury. And the Vikings have hopes that Elimimian Solomon, signed out of the CFL in January, is a diamond in the rough who can contribute.

But soon-to-be free agent Xavier Adibi is likely on his way out. Larry Dean might ultimately be little more than a special teams contributor. And to date, Kenny Onatolu hasn't broken through in limited opportunity.

In short, even with all their other needs, the Vikings can't completely ignore the linebacking corps during their offseason maneuvering.

As for the Hendersons, coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged the potential awkwardness of signing one but not the other in the coming weeks.

"The thing that's difficult is they're both up at the same time," Frazier said. "That's a little odd. Both are still good football players. Both are capable of making plays for us. But in our division, we're having to make those tough decisions."

Cole energy

If the Vikings choose to address the linebacking corps via the draft, N.C. State's Audie Cole is a playmaker worth considering somewhere in the third- or fourth-round range. The Vikings' coaching staff got an extended look at Cole last month at the Senior Bowl, where they worked closely together on the North squad. Cole said Saturday he enjoyed the Senior Bowl experience and relished the chance to work closely with Mike Singletary.

"He was great," Cole said "He was a great linebacker coach. And he was a great player. It was an honor to work with him and learn from him."

Backup plan?

University of Wisconsin fans don't need convincing that Russell Wilson has the accuracy and leadership skills to be a successful quarterback. But NFL scouts and general managers are still trying to determine where Wilson could fit at the next level.

The biggest question Wilson is trying to answer during the pre-draft process revolves around his height (5-11), a deficiency he believes he can make up for with his nifty footwork in the pocket and his high and quick release.

"You have to be able to understand the offense, know the whys of football," Wilson said at the combine. "Play with rhythm and timing and just be athletic. I definitely believe I'm one of the most athletic guys here."

Draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network says Wilson remains on his "figure 'em out" list.

"He's the kind of guy I would love to have as a backup," Mayock said. "He's smart and instinctive. If your starter got hurt, he could lead you for three, four, five games."

Quote of note

Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who has more than 50 cousins on his mom's side of the family, on what holidays were like: "You got to meet a new family member every Christmas."

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