Amid the usual Monday injury news, reports of guys missing practice for various reasons and other typical post-game tidbits can be found one interesting item: The Vikings will use Thursday’s preseason finale to look at Everson Griffen at linebacker, weak-side linebacker to be specific.
Leslie Frazier confirmed this information on Monday (via Tom Pelissero), saying the decision “is not a reflection on Erin Henderson.” It bears noting however that Henderson was pulled for a play on Saturday in the middle of a drive and replaced with David Herron, a move that as far as I know has not yet been explained.
If coaches are truly skeptical of Henderson’s ability to hold down the weak-side linebacker position, it makes sense for them to seek other options. However, I’m guessing the decision to try Griffen at linebacker has less to do with Henderson’s performance and more to do with a simple numbers game. As things stand now the Vikings are a tad thin at linebacker, mostly due to injury, and a tad over-populated on the defensive line where Griffen normally plays.
The key name to keep in mind is Christian Ballard. The rookie had a sack on Saturday lining up at defensive tackle and is clearly a talent to keep an eye on. However, despite his obvious abilities, Ballard will probably have trouble cracking the DT rotation once Kevin Williams returns from his two-game suspension.
The simple solution would be to give Ballard some snaps at end when he’s not playing tackle…but that would mean taking snaps away from Everson Griffen, a guy who was penciled in as the primary back-up to Jared Allen. Now we see where moving Griffen to linebacker begins making sense. It makes even more sense when you consider the lack of depth the Vikings are currently suffering at linebacker, a position that seemed fairly well-set going into the preseason.
The starting linebackers are not the problem, it’s the backups. Jasper Brinkley was going to be the fourth linebacker but he has been suffering a lingering hip problem. Behind him was Heath Farwell, but Farwell is overpaid and has also been dealing with injury. Sixth on the depth chart was rookie Ross Homan, but he’s been dealing with the after-effects of a concussion. The emergence of Larry Dean helped ameliorate the problem but did not eliminate it.
The Vikings became so desperate for warm bodies at linebacker ahead of Saturday’s game that they picked up UDFA Kyle O’Donnell and their own former player in David Herron. Since then O’Donnell has been cut. As previously stated, moving Griffen to LB both relieves the depth issue at that position and removes one name from a crowded defensive line mix.
So now we have something interesting to look at on Thursday: Everson Griffen getting his first action at linebacker. It seems unlikely he will stick there as anything more than a backup but who knows? Leslie Frazier may insist that Erin Henderson is in no danger of losing his job, but the fact is Henderson is far from a sure-thing to stick as the long-term starter. Griffen may not be the answer either but we’ll never know unless he gets a look.