The master plan for middle linebacker this year was to let an aging E.J. Henderson walk in free agency and install the relatively spry Jasper Brinkley as the starter at the position. So certain were the Vikings that Brinkley could take over E.J.’s spot, they didn’t even bother picking a middle linebacker during the 7 rounds of the draft (the only linebacker they took, Audie Cole, is strictly an outside guy). But for the plan to work, Brinkley must avoid suffering an injury like the one that landed him on IR for all of 2011.
So far, so…not so good. Word came out of Tuesday’s OTA session that Brinkley has already been sidelined with a groin injury. There’s no reason for us to believe it’s anything serious – yet – but folks are naturally going to worry when it’s a guy who has already lost an entire season due to an injury in the same general area (last year it was a hip). It doesn’t take much for the injury-prone label to get slapped on a player, and very often that label proves to be accurate.
The Vikings don’t exactly have a lot of other in-house options if Brinkley struggles with his health again. They signed Marvin Mitchell earlier this offseason but he’s best suited to a back-up/special teams role. Solomon Elimimian was plucked away from the CFL ranks but he’s a project at best (and, incidentally, he’s already hurt too). You could argue that, even with Brinkley fully healthy, the Vikings lack a proven starting-caliber NFL middle linebacker.
And that’s why, when all is said-and-done, there’s still probably a really good chance E.J. Henderson will be brought back. I don’t know if this groin situation with Brinkley will speed that process up, or maybe encourage the Vikes to give E.J. a few more dollars than they would have otherwise just to get him in. But with Brinkley already struggling to stay healthy and those other names not exactly inspiring confidence, I say let’s not mess around with it anymore. Let’s bring E.J. back for a year as a 2-down guy and let his brother and Chad Greenway run in the nickel. Everybody down with that?
I’m a problem solver, is what I am.