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Camp Preview: Greenway Presides Over LB Rebuilding Process

Posted Jul 16, 2014

Linebackers populate the second level of the defense, but that position group may warrant first look for Vikings fans who come to Mankato for training camp or observe the action from afar. Chad Greenway is the lone returning starter from last year’s group, and after him the Vikings have an eclectic mix of talent that must sort itself out during the month of August.

This position begins and ends with its leader – Greenway. He’s steady as the day is long, having led the Vikings in tackles the past six seasons and having not missed a game since he came back from a knee injury after the 2006 season. But in the last couple of seasons Greenway has also been splashy, totaling 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries since the start of 2012. Those are solid numbers from a linebacker playing in a conservative defense, so with Greenway now healthy after playing injured much of last season and with the Vikings set to employ a more aggressive defense, Greenway is set to be this group’s productive leader once again.

After Greenway, the Vikings have a young group of linebackers ready to battle it out during camp. Jasper Brinkley, a six-year veteran but still just 28 years old, was signed during free agency and enters camp as the presumptive starter. But he will be challenged by Michael Mauti for that spot, and Audie Cole could be in the mix there, as well, particularly if rookie Anthony Barr hits the ground running and nails down a starting spot on the outside in the base defense.

Speaking of Barr, the Vikings ninth overall pick looked every bit the part during rookie minicamp and the mandatory minicamp that concluded the offseason program. But those were the only two times he was allowed to be with the team after the draft, so we will all learn a lot more about him once camp begins. It’s safe to assume he will impress early and often given his size/athleticism combination and it’ll be interesting to see how the defensive staff chooses to use him, particularly in sub packages where he could lineup as an end or a linebacker.

Another young, athletic one to watch in this year’s camp and preseason action is Gerald Hodges. He’s entering his second season out of Penn State and last year was a solid contributor on special teams. Greenway’s steadying presence and the addition of Barr makes it tougher for Hodges to find the field on defense, but he could actually be a great weapon for the defensive staff if they wanted to get creative with their sub packages. Hodges has a nose for the ball and moves well for a player his size – traits head coach Mike Zimmer can most certainly find useful.

Larry Dean returns to the Vikings for his fourth training camp. He doesn’t have a regular spot on the Vikings starting defense, but he is a core special teams member who can contribute at a high level on multiple phases. There isn’t a harder worker in the weight room and around the team facility in the offseason, either.

Others who will round out the Vikings linebacker position are three-year veteran Dom DeCicco, Brando and rookies Brandon Watts and Mike Zimmer (not a typo). Watts should look to Dean as an example of how to make it in the NFL – come in as a low-round or undrafted rookie linebacker, work hard and impress on special teams, and eventually become a player the coaching staff just can’t cut.

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