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 before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Going camping: Vikings linebackers preview

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated: July 23, 2014 - 1:55 PM

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer loves challenges. None will be bigger defensively than figuring out what to do at linebacker.

It’s a position that will see two different starters paired up with Chad Greenway. On paper, it’s the biggest “unknown” position group and probably the weakest at this point. There are a number of unproven linebackers in position to start with Greenway. Outside of the battle at quarterback, the situation at linebacker is the second biggest headline heading into training camp.

On the eve of training camp, we break down the current situation at linebacker (Here’s our defensive line preview from Tuesday, in case you missed it.)

WHERE THINGS STAND: The Vikings released linebacker Erin Henderson and opted not to bring back Marvin Mitchell. Both linebackers started in Week 1 last season alongside Greenway. In a weak crop of linebackers in both free agency and the draft, the Vikings didn’t make a big splash acquisition that could immediately fill a need.

They brought back Jasper Brinkley to one-year deal and also signed Dom DeCicco and Mike Zimmer. In the draft, the Vikings selected Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick and took Brandon Watts in the seventh round.

The new faces blend with some unproven linebackers already on the roster, specifically Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Zimmer and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer will attempt to make the most of pieces they have available, which will be a difficult task to sort out over the next few weeks.

CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: Every job is open. Again, every job is open.

It’s difficult to even claim whether any linebacker has separated himself up to this point because they’ve been rotating constantly so the coaching staff can get a better feel for every player before training camp. We’ve seen even Greenway get some reps at middle linebacker and there’s a possibly he could be used at the position during the regular season.

It’s tough to see Barr start on Week 1 unless he makes a tremendous amount of progress over the next month that the Vikings would feel comfortable using him in any situation. At this point, Barr is a naturally gifted pass rusher with his size, speed and strength that could use more time understanding the position. Cole flashed his potential filling for Henderson at middle linebacker late last season. Brinkley has the tools that fit this defense as a run stopping linebacker, while Mauti and Hodges still remain as unknowns with potential.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Are Greenway’s best days behind him? He was ranked as the second to worst 4-3 outside linebacker out of 35 players last season by Pro Football Focus. Though, it didn’t take a complicated formula to see that Greenway regressed last season. He played through a fractured wrist for the final portion of the season but looked a step slower. Greenway will turn 32 in January heading into the final year of his deal, with an unguaranteed base salary of $7 million. This year is a big opportunity to prove his worth either for the Vikings, or another team.


St. Louis 2
Pittsburgh 4 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Miami 7 FINAL
Washington 11
Detroit 4 FINAL
Philadelphia 4
Minnesota 6 FINAL
Baltimore 5
NY Yankees 7 FINAL
Houston 0
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Boston 3
Baltimore 4 FINAL
Toronto 2
Cincinnati 8 FINAL
LA Angels 6
Chicago Cubs 7 FINAL
Kansas City 0
Los Angeles 9 FINAL
San Francisco 11
Chicago WSox 4 FINAL
Cleveland 1
Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Oakland 7
Seattle 5 FINAL
San Diego 8
Texas 5 FINAL
Los Angeles 10
Colorado 11 FINAL
Arizona 10
Arizona 1 FINAL
Colorado 2
Houston 99 FINAL
Washington 91
LA Lakers 99 FINAL
Brooklyn 107
Minnesota 88 FINAL
New Orleans 110
Philadelphia 86 FINAL
Cleveland 87
Detroit 102 FINAL
Miami 109
LA Clippers 119 FINAL
Boston 106
Dallas 99 FINAL
Indiana 104
Memphis 89 FINAL
San Antonio 103
Oklahoma City 109 FINAL
Phoenix 97
Washington 5 FINAL
NY Rangers 2
Calgary 5 FINAL
Nashville 2
Boston 2 FINAL(OT)
Carolina 1
Detroit 4 FINAL
NY Islanders 5
Florida 4 FINAL
Ottawa 2
Anaheim 2 FINAL
New Jersey 1
Chicago 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 3
San Jose 2 FINAL(SO)
Pittsburgh 3
Michigan State 76 FINAL
Louisville 70
Gonzaga 52 FINAL
Duke 66
Philadelphia 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Toronto FC 1 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 2
(7) Florida State 74 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 80
Villanova 70 FINAL
West Virginia 75
Michigan 69 FINAL
Southern Miss 60
Temple 69 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 57
Siena 50 FINAL
Louisiana 52
St Marys-CA 66 FINAL
(5) Baylor 68 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
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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 NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9




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