Leading up to the start of training camp on Friday, we will set the stage for Vikings camp by taking a look at where things stand at each position group. Today, we sort through a deep group of Vikings linebackers.
A QUICK REFRESHER: In the offseason, the Vikings and Chad Greenway agreed to a deal that would keep the veteran outside linebacker in purple for his 11th and likely final NFL season. But they also signed a threat to his playing time in former Bengals outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who played for coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. In addition to Lamur, the Vikings re-signed Audie Cole to a one-year contract with no guarantees and drafted undersized linebacker Kentrell Brothers in the fifth round.
HOT CAMP STORYLINE: Third-year outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who in 2015 was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement, sat out most of the spring with an undisclosed injury. He was healthy enough to participate in individual drills during last month’s minicamp, a sign he will be ready to roll for Friday’s first practice. Barr missed most of spring workouts in 2015, too, due to an injury and still delivered a strong season. Maybe that’s why Zimmer didn’t seem concerned about Barr this spring.
TOP BATTLE TO WATCH: Greenway lined up with the first-team defense at his usual weak-side linebacker spot this spring and presumably didn’t re-sign with the team to ride the bench. But it is worth noting that only $750,000 of his one-year deal is guaranteed while Lamur got $2 million guaranteed in his two-year contract. Before Greenway agreed to return, Zimmer said publicly that he thought Greenway could still play. But if the 33-year-old shows signs of significant slippage during the next several weeks and Lamur looks good, perhaps the Vikings will make the switch.
POSSIBLY IN DANGER: In Zimmer’s three years in Minnesota, the Vikings have drafted five linebackers, and that depth was one of the reasons they surprisingly traded away Gerald Hodges during the 2015 season. But after bringing back Greenway and adding Lamur, the Vikings will likely have to say goodbye to at least a couple young linebackers, who include Brothers, Cole, 2014 draft pick Brandon Watts and 2015 pick Edmond Robinson. Brothers, who just got drafted, and Robinson, who this spring got the nod at strong-side linebacker with Barr sidelined, seem like pretty good bets to make the team. That would mean that Cole and Watts would be goners unless somebody gets hurt or the Vikings keep seven linebackers.
BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Kendricks, a 2015 second-round pick, showed Zimmer enough early in his rookie season to be given the starting middle linebacker gig. He would go on to lead the Vikings with 92 tackles while also tallying four sacks. Kendricks was inconsistent in coverage, but he is quick, instinctive and his great balance helps him make up for a lack of ideal height, which leads one to believe he will become a plus player in coverage sooner than later. That potential to make plays all over the field could help Kendricks become one of the NFL’s leading tacklers.
EARLY ROSTER BREAKDOWN:
- On the 90-man roster: 9
- Projected to make the 53-man: 6-7
- Roster locks: 4 (Barr, Greenway, Kendricks, Lamur)
- Good bets: 2 (Brothers, Robinson)
- On the bubble: 2 (Cole, Watts)
- Longshots: 1 (Jake Ganus)