In case you missed it, I wrote a story for today’s newspaper on the Vikings’ linebacker corps, which outside linebacker Chad Greenway feels is as deep and talented as any group he has played with in his 10 years here.
Greenway and Anthony Barr are expected to start on the outside. Either Audie Cole or rookie Eric Kendricks will man the middle. And the team will try to find ways to get Gerald Hodges, likely a backup, on the field.
I had a nice chat with linebackers coach Adam Zimmer about those five guys, and he gave me some good insight that didn’t make it into the paper. But hey, we have a blog! So I’m going to share some quotes here.
Why does Cole have a leg up on Kendricks right now? “He’s a veteran and he has a real good feel for what we’re doing. Eric’s getting better every day and I think once he gets really comfortable in the system he’ll start to flourish. But Audie’s done a nice job ever since he’s gotten here and when he gets in games he makes plays. So I’m not afraid to play Audie at all, because he does play good when the lights come on.”
Is there a reluctance to give rookies big roles right away? “We’re not going to force anybody on the field. The best guys are going to play. I don’t really get into, ‘Oh, he’s a rookie. He shouldn’t play that much.’ Anthony played every snap for us until he got hurt. It’s not about being a rookie. It’s about when you’re ready to play and who gives us the best chance to win.”
What does Gerald Hodges bring to the table? “Gerald is very athletic. He has a nose for the football. Last year, he was a little undisciplined and he really worked on that this year. He’s been making way less mistakes than he did last year, so that’s encouraging. He is a versatile guy. We can play him at different positions. We’ve played him at [strong-side and weak-side linebacker] so far this training camp. I think he gives you some versatility, some athleticism and he can find the ball and make plays.”
Is there anything more that Barr can do that he wasn’t already asked to do as a rookie? “There’s a lot of things he can get better at. He needs to tackle better than he did last year. He definitely can improve his pass rush; I think when he’s rushing tackles he can improve his technique a ton there. Just knowing exactly where he needs to be in the passing game. I thought he was really good in the passing game but he can be better at that. So there’s a lot of things we’re working at. He’s not a finished product yet. What he is right now is pretty good, but he can be a lot better. … You don’t get a lot of guys like that, that are athletic and big and strong. He has all the tools you want. He’s also smart and a great kid. He’s humble. All he does is want to get better and be the best. Those are the ones you look back on later in your career and say, ‘I’m glad I coached that guy.’”
Why did you bring Greenway back? “Number one, I think he can still play. He was hampered by some injuries last year, which hurt him. But Chad’s very smart. He’s going to be exactly where we want him to be. He’s a leader in the room. The next oldest guy we’ve got in that room is 26 years old, so I think it’s good to have a veteran leader in there to show the young guys how to work and do things. I think Chad’s got a lot of good plays left in him and he’s going to have a good year this year. … It’s an impressive run he’s had. He’s been a true pro the whole way. And I think he’s got one or two more [seasons] left in him.”