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.
We'll take a daily look at where the Vikings' roster stands at the moment position-by-position leading up to our NFL Combine coverage next week.
On the roster: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Simoni Lawrence, Michael Mauti
Free agents: Desmond Bishop, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean (restricted), Erin Henderson (released)
The Vikings have already made two roster moves at linebacker this offseason. They released Erin Henderson and signed former Gophers linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who spent the last two seasons in the CFL.
There’s some young talent on the roster that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his son, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, will inherit in Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.
Cole, who will turn 25 by the start of next season, started at middle linebacker when he replaced Henderson during the season before spraining his ankle. His recorded a sack during his rep as a starter on an A-gap blitz against the Packers and finished with 13 tackles. He matched that performance with 13 tackles against the Ravens two weeks later.
The seventh round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft at worst will be a serviceable special teams player and backup linebacker given his aggressive mentality. He’ll have a shot to earn a starting position in training camp either at middle or inside linebacker.
Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were used sparingly on defense and mainly on special teams, but the Penn State linebackers will also get a shot at a larger role next season. Mauti, 24, made it through his rookie season playing in 14 games after three torn ACL injuries in a five-year span at Penn State. If his knees can hold up, the seventh round pick in last year’s draft has always had the potential as a starting inside or middle linebacker.
Hodges, 23, played in 11 games during his rookie season. He was projected as an outside linebacker last year in the draft but was hardly used at the position with Chad Greenway on the roster.
Zimmer will get a chance to work with the young linebackers before the draft in May. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could be available when the franchise is on the clock with the eighth overall selection.
Greenway started all 16 games for a fifth consecutive season, but his play regressed last season playing through two broken bones in his wrist for most of the season. Greenway, 31, was graded 34th among 35 qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus. Greenway is expected make a base salary of $6.4 million next season, which trails just running back Adrian Peterson on the roster. It might benefit the franchise to restructure his contract this offseason if it needs more cap space.
“He is as tough an hombre as there is for him to play linebacker with a broken wrist through a lot of the season,” Spielman said on Friday. “I know that is healed and healthy now. He would never make an excuse for that either.”
The Vikings have announced two roster moves this morning, waiving offensive lineman Kevin Murphy and cornerback C.C. Whitlock.
Murphy? Well, the Vikings had just claimed him off waivers on Tuesday atfer the 49ers let him go. Apparently his work with the team Wednesday must not have been too impressive.
Whitlock, meanwhile, is a 5-foot-10, 181-pound defensive back who played his college ball at South Carolina. He was one of 15 undrafted free agents the Vikings signed immediately after the draft ended.
Rick Spielman? As Michael Corleone? Take a look and we’ll explain.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman kicked off a busy week of pro day visits with a stop at the University of Minnesota earlier today. He'll leave town tonight for the bigger fish of UCLA on Tuesday, USC and left tackle Matt Kalil on Wednesday and Oklahoma State and receiver Justin Blackmon on Friday.
Then it's back to Winter Park on Saturday one final team meeting with ownership before the start of free agency on March 13.
Today's pro day started with 27 local prospects, including eight Gophers.
"All these kids are going to be late-round, free-agent type guys," Spielman said. "Hopefully, there will be some guys that we'll definitely invite or maybe sign in college free agency."
Spielman brought about six to eight members of the organization with him today. Although it's unlikely the Vikings will draft anybody that they saw today, Spielman used the name Marcus Sherels to prove it's not a waste to attend the Gophers' pro day. Sherels, the team's top punt returner and a backup cornerback, was signed after being invited to a rookie tryout in 2010.
One of the standouts today was Gophers defensive lineman Anthony Jacobs. Listed at 6-2, 291 pounds, he ran the 40 in the 4.7-4.8 range and had a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump that was much better than a lot of the smaller players.
Spielman wouldn't say which players he liked to disliked, but when asked about Jacobs' numbers, he said, "That should get him a look."
Another impressive number: 27. That was the number of times Gophers running back Duane Bennett bench pressed 225 pounds.
Here are some of the other highlights of Spielman's interview with local reporters:
Upon accepting a promotion to become the Vikings' new general manager Tuesday, Rick Spielman promised to be more upfront and more available to the media going forward. On Day 2 of the job, Spielman began making good on that promise, doing lengthy interviews with Mike Florio on NBC's Pro Football Talk web show and with Judd Zulgad and Joe Anderson on "Judd & Phunn" on 1500 ESPN.
If you're not on your toes, Spielman has a skill for slithering away from direct questions, often speaking in very broad terms. That's why in the coming months, as Spielman continues to magnetize the spotlight on center stage, you'll hear a lot of generalities repeated. Just to get those out of the way, Spielman accepts responsibility for the Vikings' disastrous 3-13 seasons, has a goal of bringing championships to Minnesota and believes his promotion will help create clarity in the decision-making processes at Winter Park as they relate to personnel. (Don't expect Spielman to directly answer many questions about April's draft, the Vikings' plans in free agency or the changes to the coaching staff that Leslie Frazier is currently considering.)
But Spielman did open up to Florio, Zulgad and Anderson on several matters of note today. Here are the Spielman quotes of note from those interviews.
On why the Vikings opted to elevate him into a GM's role: "I think everyone that's in the playoffs for the most part has this type of structure. I know everyone in our current division -- and you know, we play in the toughest division in the NFL right now -- has this type of structure. And they've had success with this type of structure. And I felt our ownership felt very strongly about going in this direction."
On how he landed a promotion after the Vikings finished 3-13 this season: "I think what the ownership is doing is they see the body of work that's been done. I think what they want to see is by putting this structure in place, is this going to help clarify things on how we're doing things moving forward? And I know in this role, you're going to have to prove yourself. You're going to have to make the right decisions. You're going to have to get this football team better. But that's part of making some changes and putting me in this role."
On what he saw in Christian Ponder during his rookie season: "I'm very excited about some of the things he has shown. He also had his struggles just like most rookie quarterbacks have had during the season. But very excited about some of the unique tihngs that he was able to do on the field when he was there. What you saw is when he first came in it was almost like he didn't know what he didn't know and played pretty well. Then all of a sudden, when you see some of the turnovers happen, then all of a sudden they start thinking a little bit. 'Well, I better not turn the ball over.' And not playing as, what I would say, loose. Then I think what you saw a little bit towards the end, is he started to play a little bit better toward the end and not worrying so much."
On Adrian Peterson's recovery from major knee surgery and whether he will be available for Week 1 of 2012: "I know that we're going to make sure that he is 100 percent. Until our medical staff and doctors rell us that he's 100 percent to go on the field, we're not going to put him out there to risk injury. But I also know Adrian is a pretty unique indvidual. Not only what he does on the field, not only his physical ability, but how he's going to attack this rehab. In just speaking with Adrian and knowing his attitude, it's 'I'm going to prove that this ACL is not going to affect me in any way, shape or form. In fact, I'm going to be better than I was coming off this thing. And I'm going to attack tihs rehab like it's going to make me better.'"
On evaluating the roster makeup going forward: "Again, when you're 3-13, you're going to look at every area. But I think we'll start that process next week. We have our personnel meetings next week. All our scouts are in. Our coaches are in. We conduct it similar to how we do draft meetings and [unrestricted free agent] meetings. And we're going to have to have open and frank and very objective discussions on 'Can this guy play for us? Can we win with this guy or we can't?' And if we can't win with 'em, then we're going to have to move on. But then the next process is, OK, we're going to move on from this player, how are we going to replace that player? That's where the UFA meetings come into effect and that's where you get the draft coming into effect too."
On his philosophy on what needs to be done: "I believe that you have to get young and you have to continue to get young year in and year out. And you can't let your roster get old all at once. Because if you do, then it's hard to replace all those guys at one time. So we started that process a little bit last year. We had nine of our 10  draft picks make it. A lot of them ended up contributing this year. And we're going to have another nine or 10 draft picks this year. ... And we'll expect every one of those guys to come in and contribute as well."
On building a foundation to sustain success: "Those teams that continually have a competitive roster year in and year out, don't go that all-in type theory that was started '09 and bring that same roster back in 2010 because we were so close. Because eventually that catches up to you. And the quarterback's the key. The head coach and the quarterback and the talent you can put around the quarterback and playing good defense."
On the biggest change fans might see in Spielman now that he's the GM: "Again, with the general manager's title, you're going to be out in front more, dealing with issues that do arise. You're going to know from the standpoint of when we do make personnel moves and personnel decisions who's responsible for those decisions. It's not going to be, 'Did he do this?' Or 'Did he do that?' It's all my responsibility now. That's going to be the biggest change. Now when we start making roster moves and things like that, the coaches and everybody will be involved in that process. But I'll have the ability to make the final say on how we're going to move forward.."
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