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The Vikings are building the linebacker position around Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, but how will several new additions fit into the picture? Daniel House discusses why linebacker will be one of the top position battles on the defensive side of the ball.
Updated: July 4th, 2016 12:26pm
Updated: July 4th, 2016 12:26pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings have built the linebacker position group by adding two dynamic playmakers over the last three seasons. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have revolutionized the way the Vikings run their defense. Their athleticism and playmaking ability allow the coaches to place them in a plethora of packages and situations. Aside from those two, the Vikings have added more talent to the linebacker room as they try to develop talent and establish depth. This year, the linebacker position will be a huge battle in training camp as the final roster spot will be contested by three capable options.
The linebacker position is spearheaded by veteran Chad Greenway who will be returning for his final season in purple. Greenway is entering his 11th season in Minnesota and performed rather well in his diminished role in 2015. He still managed to notch 68 tackles and most notably intercepted a pass for a 91-yard touchdown against San Diego. Greenway's veteran leadership, combined with his serviceable abilities in less snaps are a vital asset to the linebacker group. It seems unlikely Greenway will start again this season as he will face competition by free agent linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. Lamur joined the Vikings after spending four seasons in Cincinnati with the Bengals. He is familiar with Mike Zimmer's defense as he played within the system in 2012. Lamur battled a shoulder injury in 2013, but played in 30 games (15 starts) from 2014-2015. His most attractive traits are his versatility and size. Lamur measures in at 6'4", 245 pounds. His blend of size and athleticism are attractive aspects of his game. He will likely compete with Chad Greenway for the starting weak side linebacker job. It is hard to imagine he wouldn't win that job. Greenway can still enter later in game to keep the linebacker corps fresh.
Another under-the-radar candidate to win a starting linebacker job alongside Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr is rookie Kentrell Brothers. Brothers, a fifth round pick out of Missouri, was one of the best tackling linebackers in the country last season. In fact, he finished the regular season leading the nation in tackling. He has experience in the middle and at weakside linebacker. With the Vikings primarily playing nickel defense, the third starter in the base 4-3 defense won't see all the snaps. Eric Kendricks could move back outside with Anthony Barr and Brothers could play middle linebacker. With athletic and intriguing linebackers like Lamur and Brothers, the coaches have more flexibility to adjust the way they use their personnel in the scheme. Along with those names, another guy to keep an eye on will be second year linebacker Edmond Robinson. A seventh round pick in 2015, Robinson played in nine games (2 starts) and flashed on special teams. He has similar measurables to Emmanuel Lamur and really bought into coaching last year. With another year in the system, he could challenge Lamur and Brothers for the final starting role in the base 4-3 defense.
Aside from the new additions, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks provide so much flexibility for the Vikings on defense. Barr can rush off the line of scrimmage and make plays in space. He can be placed in many different roles across the defense and is one of the most dynamic playmaking linebackers in all of football. Eric Kendricks is freakishly athletic and can get sideline-to-sideline on a dime. Not to mention, he is a reliable tackler who has the instincts to play at this level. With only one year under his belt, it is hard to imagine how he will develop with another season of coaching. Barr and Kendricks are two pieces to build around and if the coaches can develop another solid option for the base 4-3, linebacker may become one of the strengths of the Vikings' defense.
As far as a training camp battle goes at linebacker, it will be a highly contested clash for the final spot. The team will likely keep six linebackers, but that could change depending upon how the other position groups are structured on the final 53-man roster. The final spot will come down to three players battling it out. Audie Cole suffered a fractured ankle in a November matchup against the Rams in 2015. He will be returning from injury and fighting for his spot on the roster. Cole did sign a new contract as a free agent, but only $40,000 is guaranteed on the 1-year deal. With so much potential from other young system fits on the roster, it is hard to imagine that Cole would make the team. However, he is well-known for his playing making ability and strong work ethic. Audie is entering his fifth season in Minnesota and has started seven games over his first four seasons in the league. He has been very reliable in coverage and as a tackler, but he doesn't have the most athleticism to play in this system.
Finally, Brandon Watts is entering his third season in Minnesota. Since he was drafted by the Vikings in 2014, his career has been riddled by durability problems. Much of his raw athleticism hasn't been developed and his size doesn't fit the mold of other linebackers in the group. Coach Zimmer wants to keep players on his roster that can stay healthy and contribute on a weekly basis. Watts will need to show that he has made significant strides this offseason. As I already noted, Edmond Robinson has really developed nicely over one season in the system. He fits the mold of a player that situates well within Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme. With just one year in Minnesota, it is hard to believe the coaches will give up on a player with the skill-set, work ethic, and developmental potential that Robinson has. However, Watts and Cole certainly have the chance to show they are worthy of a spot by performing well in training camp and the preseason.
The linebacker room is crowded with potential and a three player battle for the final spot will be worth monitoring throughout training camp. As I have noted in other position breakdowns, a few roster decisions on other portions of the roster could have a significant impact on the structure of another. One thing is certain, linebacker, along with the defensive backfield will be two of the hottest roster battles on defense heading into training camp.