Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings have reasons for staying patient at linebacker

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFC Updated: March 18, 2014 - 11:33 AM

The biggest need left as the Vikings maneuver through Week 2 of free agency while preparing for the draft is linebacker.

Beyond Chad Greenway, the Vikings have no proven starting-caliber players to fill the other two spots in a 4-3 scheme. But there are several factors that have kept the Vikings from scratching that itch the way they’ve gone out and addressed needs at quarterback, defensive end, nose tackle, cornerback, left guard and depth at receiver.

Let us count those factors:

1, The free agent market at linebacker is weak and/or aging.

2, The Vikings have seven linebackers under contract. Three of them – Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges – are young players the Vikings are high on. A fourth one – Jasper Brinkley – was re-signed before the start of free agency because the new coaching staff thinks he might be good enough to compete for a starting job or provide depth. Brinkley was a bust in Arizona last year, but given a limited role, he can be an acceptable downhill run-stopper.

3, The Vikings are looking for a difference-maker, a playmaker, a young guy with speed and instincts and a physical presence. The place you find those are relatively high in the draft, not on the street.

4, The Vikings are changing their defensive scheme under new coach Mike Zimmer. The staff is still figuring out how the different skill levels will match the new roles. And that includes Greenway, whose role for years has been a strong-side backer whose primary responsibilities were in coverage.

Here’s what General Manager Rick Spielman had to say about the linebackers when I asked specifically about the weak-side position, which appears to have Hodges, an unproven second-year player, atop the depth chart:

“I wish you could say you had 22 guys that you’re going to line up with and say that they’re all proven starters,” Spielman said. “That’s not the way the NFL is. You have to play these young guys and you have to get them ready to play and we have an unbelievable coaching staff that I know will do a great job of getting these guys ready to go.

“When you look at Audie Cole, he did a nice job when he came in at Mike [middle linebacker], he can also play the strong side. Hodges can cross-train because the strong side and the weak side. They’re talking about doing some things with Chad Greenway, and Jasper Brinkley can play some Mike and he can play some strong side.

“I think all of that stuff will sort itself out once these guys get on the field and once we get through the draft and figure out what the best combination is for these guys. All of these guy, we feel that they do have ability, most of them are able to cross-train between one linebacker position and another.

“It’s a different philosophy on the linebackers as far as what Coach Zimmer is going to use in the nickel situations and the dime situations that is a little different than what we’ve had here in the past. I’m excited to see how all of that comes out.”

Asked if the coaches were looking at moving Greenway to middle linebacker, Spielman said:

“I don’t know. That’s the coaches’ decision. I know he’s played on the weak side, he’s been in our nickel package and stuff. Like I said, they do a lot of things from a defensive side that’s a little different from what we’ve done in the past and once these coaches figure out what the skillsets are and once they get an opportunity to put their hands on these players to figure out what their best skillset there, they’ll figure out how to best utilize them on the field.”

In other news today …

. The Vikings confirmed the visit of offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse earlier today. Ducasse, a 6-5, 325-pound guard, previously visited Cincinnati. A second-round pick of the Jets in 2010, Ducasse never lived up to expectations. He has started only five games, four of them coming last season. Ducase leaving town without a deal isn't a surprise. The urgency to sign him was lessened over the weekend when the team agreed to a two-year deal to bring back starting left guard Charlie Johnson.

. Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, who visited Winter Park last week, continues his tour of NFL teams. He reportedly left Dallas last night and is scheduled to visit with the Rams today.

. Overthecap.com reports that receiver Jerome Simpson signed for $1 million, including a $50,000 roster bonus and a $50,000 workout bonus. The site also has the Vikings $15.3 million under the salary cap, but that does not factor in guard Charlie Johnson’s recent deal.

. Zimmer is among the coaches at Florida State's Pro Day today.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT