Who Will Be The Vikings Man In The Middle?

Posted Apr 29, 2013

As is typical under the guidance of general manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings solved a few problems and addressed team needs during the draft. Actually, the Vikings did that in dramatic fashion this year, selecting a pair of defensive studs in the 1st round and then trading back into the 1st round near the end of the night to add an explosive playmaker to the receiver corps – Cordarrelle Patterson.

As many questions as that 1st round answered, many fans emailed over the weekend asking what the team planned to do to fill the hole at middle LB created by the departure of Jasper Brinkley via free agency. We don’t know the answer to that question at this point. Neither Spielman nor head coach Leslie Frazier have disclosed the plan to this point, and it might not be something we know in the near future.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at a few options the Vikings have at middle LB. As always, let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry or by emailing me for inclusion in a future Monday Morning Mailbag or Pick 6…

Option 1: Move Erin Henderson to the middle
This is an option I detailed in today’s Monday Morning Mailbag. You can click the link to read it there, or keep reading here for a shortened version of this option. There are 3 reasons I think Henderson would make a good middle LB. First, he has instincts and intelligence – those are the top 2 traits I want in a middle LB. Secondly, he has the size (6-3, 244 pounds) to fill gaps in the run game and mix it up with big, burly offensive linemen. And thirdly, he is already the middle LB in nickel, so it would be convenient to have him as the middle LB in base defense, too. Remember, Erin’s older brother, EJ, spent a couple years playing outside LB before he became a star middle LB for the Vikings.

If this is the option the Vikings choose, they could then anoint 4th-round draft pick Gerald Hodges as the other outside LB. He is very good in pass coverage and would fill the void that would be left by Henderson shifting over. Hodges would have to compete with and beat out fellow OLBs such as Larry Dean and Marvin Mitchell.

Option 2: Have Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Tyrone McKenzie compete for the job
The Vikings have a veteran (McKenzie), a 7th-round pick from last year (Cole) and a 7th-round pick from this year (Mauti) who are game to compete for a starting job as the middle LB. McKenzie is a smart player who has been a core special teams player since joining the Vikings as a free agent in 2011. Cole was selected in the 7th round a year ago, developed nicely in his first few months on the job, got splashy in the preseason with 2 INTs returned for TDs, and then played in 5 games during his rookie campaign. Mauti was the Big 10 LB of the Year in 2012, but has a history of ACL injuries and needs to overcome that stigma while also showing coaches he belongs at this level.

Option 3: Look to the free agent market
A lot of fans have expressed to me interest in 2 veterans on the market who could play middle LB for the Vikings – former Bears MLB Brian Urlacher and former Cardinals and Dolphins LB Karlos Dansby. Both players have had very good careers, and Urlacher will be enshrined in Canton one day. But as is the case with any veteran a team considers signing, the Vikings would have to ask themselves two key questions before signing one of these two veterans: Are they a good scheme fit? And are they worth the price? Urlacher would seem to be a good scheme fit because the Vikings and Bears run similar defenses. Dansby has played in several different defensive schemes, so that question is hard to answer from my chair. As for the price fit, we don’t know what either guy would ask for in terms of value and length of contract. For that reason and a few others, it sounds more appealing to rely on younger players already on the Vikings roster. But if that doesn’t work out, perhaps one of these two veterans can come to the rescue.