Daniel House continues the position battle series by analyzing a highly touted linebacker positional structure.
Yesterday I analyzed an offensive guard group with bundles of potential. Today, I shift my focus to the defensive side of the ball to analyze my top position battle in my rankings. The linebacker position is wide open and with many potential candidates battling for 6 or 7 spots, this position will be the most fierce battle on the current 90-man roster.
Obviously Henderson had been bombarded with questions regarding his readiness to play in the middle of the defense. To solidify this worry, the Vikings added veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop, just days after he was released by the Packers. The area I will be watching from Henderson, is to see his comfort levels in the middle and outside of the defense. Can he handle a transition or will Desmond Bishop shift to the middle and Henderson remain outside?
First of all, is Bishop's hamstring 100% healed from last year or will he struggle to regain normal form? If he can show any flashes from 2009, when he led the Packers defense in tackles, he is a huge upgrade to our defense. I see him being healthy, shifting to the middle, and being a vocal leader of the defense.
Mitchell was proven as a backup, but struggled to stay healthy during several points of the season. When injuries occurred Marvin was able to effectively play well in the middle. In addition, he is great on special teams and is a veteran with experience in the league. He will be battling draft pick Michael Mauti and 2012 selection, Audie Cole for a chance at the 53-man roster.
McKenzie joined the Vikings last season after spending a stint in New England, with the Patriots. The real question will be whether he can stay healthy and contribute on special teams, like he did in the early stretches of the 2012 season. Once again, he is a veteran, but if a player like Gerald Hodges can show ability to play as a backup and on special teams, McKenzie may be on the outside looking in.
Cole is known for his excellent preseason performance last year, which earned him a roster spot. This season will be slightly different, with the addition of draft pick Michael Mauti and the return of special teams ace Larry Dean, Cole will need to show he can not only play linebacker, but special teams as well.
Dean barely slid unto the roster in 2012 and was a disappointment during many moments of the 2012 season. He became a slightly poor tackler and wasn't the same special teams ace we seen in 2011. I question with the additions of young talent, whether the Vikings will need to rely on Dean to be active in special teams. The key for the players battling for the last two spots, will be to show special teams execution during training camp.
Mauti is fresh off an ACL tear he suffered during his senior season at Penn State and may not be ready to fully participate when practice begins on Friday. Many predicted Mauti as a middle round draft pick, but due to the injury concerns, his stock dropped significantly. I wonder whether he can correct some directional movement skills, or if he will struggle to be effective in any way.
Hodges was drafted in the fourth round of this year's draft, with intentions to become an option on the outside when Henderson was poised to move inside. Now with the addition of Desmond Bishop, Hodges can become a developmental project. He is known for his great ball skills, but has a strong tendency to over pursue. With Mike Singletary's coaching, I feel Hodges could be an nice long-term option for the Vikings.