Over the next two weeks we'll take a position-by-position look at the performance and production of the Vikings roster in 2013.
There's an impressive list of gutty, productive, tough defenders in Vikings history. The list includes the likes of the Purple People Eaters, Matt Blair, Chris Doleman, John Randle, Scott Studwell, Henry Thomas and Kevin Williams, just to name a few. Now that he's completed a sixth consecutive season leading the team in tackles, it's about time to add linebacker Chad Greenway to that list.
Greenway tallied 167 tackles in 2013, tying Studwell for most consecutive seasons leading the team in that category (six), and further asserting himself as a leader of the defense and of the entire team. Long known as a durable player and productive tackler, Greenway even got a bit splashy this season by notching seven pass breakups (PBUs), 3.0 sacks and three interceptions.
After Greenway, the Vikings linebacker group is a cast of mostly youthful players still looking to carve a niche for themselves in the NFL. Yes, veterans such as Erin Henderson (second on the team in tackles and TFLs) and Marvin Mitchell (16 games, 10 starts) were reliable and ate up playing time. But going forward, it'll be interesting to see how this mostly-young group of linebackers develops.
Second-year linebacker Audie Cole saw the most time of this young crowd, entering the starting lineup in Week 12 and finishing the season with 49 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, three PBUs, one forced fumble and 1.0 sack. He could be a future starter, or he could be a reliable reserve who can also play special teams. Either way, the Vikings hit it big with the seventh-round pick from 2012.
A couple others to watch are a pair of college teammates who were each selected in the 2013 NFL Draft – Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Hodges finished with nine special teams tackles in 11 games played, and he should compete for playing time on defense over the offseason and into training camp. Mauti played in 14 games and finished third on the team with 13 special teams tackles, and he too should compete for playing time during the offseason and into training camp.
What isn't known at this point is who will comprise the starting group of linebackers in 2014. What we do know is that there are plenty of bodies on the roster to compete for spots right now, plus it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings add more talented linebackers during the offseason. What we also know is the Vikings group of linebackers will be tremendous special teams contributors. The group tallied 53 special teams tackles in 2013, including 18 (second on the team) from Larry Dean, one of the Vikings top special teams players.
On the Roster
Desmond Bishop: 8 tackles, 3 TFLs in 4 games (1 start)
Audie Cole: 49 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 4 special teams tackles, 1.0 sack, 3 PBUs, 1 FF in 13 games (5 starts)
Larry Dean: 18 special teams tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR in 16 games (0 starts)
Chad Greenway: 167 tackles, 10.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, 3 INTs, 7 PBUs in 16 games (16 starts)
Erin Henderson: 154 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 2 FF in 14 games (12 starts)
Gerald Hodges: 9 special teams tackles in 11 games (0 starts)
Michael Mauti: 13 special teams tackles in 14 games (0 starts)
Marvin Mitchell: 48 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, 8 special teams tackles, 2 PBUs, 1 FR in 16 games (10 starts)