Anthony Barr was too raw to make an immediate impact as a rookie, they said (I said). Barr wouldn’t be ready by Week 1, they said (I said). Barr would need time to adjust from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense in the NFL, they said (I said).
Boy, were we (I) wrong.
The situation at linebacker is much better due to the presence of Barr, the ninth overall pick last year. He didn’t participate last year during OTAs, like defensive end Scott Crichton and offensive guard David Yankey due to an NFL underclassmen rule, and Barr still cracked the starting lineup in Week 1. Linebackers coach Adam Zimmer spent a lot of time on the side to make sure Barr was prepared before joining the team for minicamp and training camp last offseason, and he’s emerged as a cornerstone in head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
As for the other 10 linebackers on the roster, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a promising rookie, a 10-year veteran and everything in between. We continue our Vikings training camp preview by analyzing the linebackers.
SAFE BET STARTER: Anthony Barr, Chad Greenway
Whether you like it or not, Greenway will be serving a starting role in some capacity this year. He took a pay cut to return with the team during the offseason, and Zimmer has stated on numerous occasions that he feels Greenway can still play. Whether he’ll be used as a two-down or three-down outside linebacker remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume that Barr and Greenway will be the outside linebackers in the base 4-3 defense.
Barr was limited during OTAs and minicamp with an undisclosed injury. He’s expected to be a full participant at the start of training camp on Saturday.
BACKUPS: Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Josh Kaddu, Eric Kendricks, Casey Matthews, Michael Mauti, Brian Peters, Brandon Watts, Edmond Robinson
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: There’s a starting job up for grabs at middle linebacker, and it appears it’ll come down to Kendricks, Hodges and Cole. The Vikings used Jasper Brinkley at the position last year, but he was a liability in coverage and signed with the Cowboys in the offseason. While Cole and Hodges have more experience, it’s hard to ignore Kendricks. The Vikings were in shorts and t-shirts during OTAs and minicamp, but Kendricks was very impressive. The second round pick has great instincts, as he did at UCLA, and Kendricks has great range in coverage as well. He looks like a rookie that’s capable of starting immediately for the Vikings, but he’ll have to earn it.
THE BURNING QUESTION: Who will be used in the nickel alongside Barr? Sid Hartman spoke to Zimmer in his column this week, and here’s what he had to say about Kendricks:
Asked if Kendricks, a second-round pick out of UCLA, will start, Zimmer said: “I don’t know if he’ll start but I know he’ll have a role for us defensively. He is a terrific pass-cover guy. If he’s not starting in the base there is a good chance he could start in the nickel.”
Kendricks would be an upgrade over Greenway, 32, in the nickel despite the inexperience. Greenway regressed in pass coverage while dealing with rib, hand and knee injuries last year. He brings experience but will his body cooperate at this point in his career to serve as a three-down linebacker at a serviceable level? We’ll keep a close eye on this in Mankato.