Remember last year when we all thought the Vikings were set at cornerback, and then thanks to an unfortunate personnel move and a couple injuries we suddenly weren’t? It looks like the team is facing a similar situation this year, only at linebacker instead of corner.
Last year the trade of Benny Sapp, made to reinforce the receiver corps after Sidney Rice‘s hip surgery, and the subsequent losses of Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook to injury depleted the corner depth to the point where the team had no recourse but to desperation moves, including using Asher Allen more than they ever wanted and signing has-been Frank Walker. This year the Vikings are being forced to resort to similar drastic measures to bolster the linebacker corps, which received a major blow Tuesday with the news that Jasper Brinkley is facing possible hip surgery and a season-ending trip to IR.
Brinkley’s hip has kept him out of action for most of the preseason, prompting the Vikes to try all sorts of different options, including bringing back veteran David Harron and, for this week at least, giving defensive end Everson Griffen a look at weak-side linebacker. The situation has not been helped by Heath Farwell‘s hamstring problem or rookie Ross Homan‘s concussion issues. The one bright spot in this whole mess has been the emergence of UDFA Larry Dean, who at this point is almost a lock to make the team and may end up pushing Erin Henderson at WLB before it’s over.
But injury hasn’t been the only factor wreaking havoc with the linebacker depth. Like last year’s corner situation, the linebacker situation has been exacerbated by a personnel move that in retrospect may turn out to have been a big mistake.
When the Vikes traded Benny Sapp last year for Greg Camarillo they assumed they were giving up a little at a position where they were strong to bolster a position where they were weak. What they didn’t know at the time was that Cedric Griffin would end up tearing his ACL again, that rookie Chris Cook would suffer a pair of knee injuries and that Lito Sheppard would turn out to be basically a mess.
By week six it became apparent the Sapp trade was a mistake; this year’s personnel goof probably won’t take so long to recognize as a goof. I think it’s already safe to say the Vikings erred in not freeing up cap space to re-sign Ben Leber, who is currently in St. Louis gearing up to start at OLB. Instead of working to bring back Leber, the Vikings signed tendered LB Erin Henderson and penciled him in at Leber’s spot. Henderson has been okay this preseason but hardly spectacular. Had the Vikes kept Leber, Henderson could’ve remained the 4th linebacker, and the loss of Brinkley would not hurt so much.
The loss of Leber is made all the more frustrating by the fact that, in the end, the Rams were able to sign him for relatively little money. Some of the guys the Vikings let walk (Sidney Rice, Ray Edwards) could not have realistically been re-signed given the large amounts of dough thrown at them, but Leber was not in that category. If Erin Henderson develops then the loss of Leber won’t look like such a mistake, but we’re a long way from knowing for certain whether Henderson will ever become a worthy starter.
As things stand now, the Vikings are one more linebacker injury away from the grim prospect of Larry Dean or David Herron or even Everson Griffen being pressed into starting duty. After a preseason of injury problems, Heath Farwell seems like he’s out of the mix entirely, and could even end up being cut to save cap space (why he and Camarillo weren’t cut earlier to give them a chance to keep Leber is something only Rick Spielman can say). Who knows when Ross Homan will ever see the field again after suffering a concussion a couple of weeks ago.
It’s funny how fast a position you think you have relatively shored-up can become a question mark. But let’s face it: linebacker is only one of many areas where the Vikings are not exactly brimming with prime talent. After years of profligate spending, the bill has finally come due for the Zygi Wilf regime, and this sad reality is being reflected all over the depth chart, which is riddled with bargain basement veterans and green youngsters. Sometimes you just have to take your medicine and right now the Vikings are swallowing a big, bitter dose.