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A Look at the Linebackers Heading Into Preseason Opener

Posted Aug 6, 2014

On Tuesday, just a few days in advance of the preseason opener, the Vikings released their first depth chart of the season and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards met with reporters. Two events that, when analyzed separately, provided insight on a lot of different areas of the team. But when analyzed simultaneously, these two events provided great insight into the team’s situation at linebacker.

Heading into training camp, many viewed linebacker as one of the positions with the most question marks. Nine-year veteran Chad Greenway was solid, of course, but after that the Vikings have a bunch of young players trying to carve out a niche on the team. How would Anthony Barr develop in Mike Zimmer’s scheme? Would Jasper Brinkley be the answer in the middle or would Audie Cole and Michael Mauti challenge for a spot? Could Gerald Hodges take the next step in Year 2?

Those were all fair questions, and some of them have yet to be answered. While final answers aren’t due from the Vikings coaching and scouting staffs on the linebacker situation, we did gain some clarity this week as the Vikings put together a plan of attack for Friday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.

The depth chart released by the team lists Brinkley as the starter at MIKE linebacker, Greenway the starter on the weak side (WILL) and Barr the starter on the strong side (SAM). Cole is listed as the backup MIKE, rookie Brandon Watts backs up Greenway at WILL and Hodges is the No. 2 SAM behind Barr.

Where did Mauti go? The Vikings have moved him to WILL, where they feel his skill set is better suited.

“Mike has played all three positions in this training camp,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said. “Right now we are playing him at will linebacker. He’s played mike, he’s played SAM and as a backup linebacker that’s sort of what we talked about before, you have to be able to play dual positions as we go into a game week.”

Zimmer provided further clarification after Tuesday’s practice, explaining that Mauti is a “run and tackle” linebacker and that a run and tackle linebacker may operate best at WILL in the Vikings scheme.

All the questions and position shuffling aside at linebacker, one thing is becoming apparent: the Vikings have studs in Barr and Greenway. And they will likely play the Barr-Greenway combination in their base defense but also in sub packages.

Asked how he liked Barr and Greenway on the field together in the nickel package, for example, Edwards was encouraged.

“I like it a lot, those are two guys that have a lot of ability to get done what we are trying to do, skill set wise, as far as pressures, as far as coverage,” he explained. “Anthony, we have used him in a load of different roles, from rushing to dropping, to a little bit of everything, so from that aspect of it we are just continuing to progress and trying to polish his tools as we keep working down the road at all those different positions.”

While Barr may be entering just his third season of playing defense – he was a running back for his first two seasons at UCLA – he is also a quick learner.

“Once you get him in here, you see how smart he is, usually if he messes up something he comes back and cleans it up and he has got it,” Edwards said. “From that aspect of it, you are pleased of where he is at right now as we keep progressing.

“In college, you saw what they used him for. You saw him dropping, you saw him rushing, you saw him playing on the end of the line of scrimmage, you saw him in a four down front rushing, playing the run and those kinds of things. The thing that stuck out is you saw him flash, you saw athleticism, you saw ability to be able to run and chase. He has pretty much come in and really concentrated on what it is to be a pro, as far as at the position, and has done a good job, which is what we expected out of him.”

Given all the questions that surrounded the linebackers entering 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, many didn’t know what to expect. But with Barr and Greenway impressing on a daily basis and with the rest of the group competing hard for limited roster spots, the Vikings linebackers working toward improvement and may soon be able to deliver better-than-expected results.

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