Leslie Frazier is being his typical non-committal self when it comes to talk of the growing competition at linebacker between incumbent Erin Henderson and free agent acquisition Marvin Mitchell. Frazier was asked flat-out if Mitchell is pushing Henderson and Frazier insisted he is not…yet.
“I don’t know if he’s pushing [Henderson] for the starting job, but he’s giving us some depth that we didn’t have prior to signing him, as you know,” Frazier said. “But we’ll see. We’ll see how [Mitchell] performs in these preseason games. Erin still has to perform well. You don’t want to say things are locked up where we are right now. We need competition.”
Competition at weak-side linebacker was not something we expected to see coming into training camp. Erin Henderson held down that job in 2011, performing well enough to place on Pro Football Focus’ top 101 players list, and was considered one of the bigger locks on the defense for 2012. But perhaps we were too hasty in assuming Henderson had a starting job sealed up. He was signed to only a one-year deal after all. Despite all the accolades from tape geeks, it seems the Vikings were never fully convinced Henderson was the man for the job. And still aren’t.
One thing to keep in mind here: The Vikings did hire a new defensive coordinator this year in Alan Williams. Surely Williams had a hand in evaluating the roster ahead of free agency and the draft. It’s possible Williams looked at Henderson’s tape and decided he’s not a perfect fit for the defense he’s trying to install. We assume the Vikings will stick with some variation of their Tampa-2 – Williams was a Tampa-2 guy in Indianapolis – but there has also been talk of more man coverage and possibly more blitzing.
This is where Marvin Mitchell comes in. Mitchell played in Gregg Williams’ aggressive blitzing defense in New Orleans, albeit as a back-up, and developed a reputation as a sure-tackling downhill player. If the Vikings mean to become more aggressive in sending their linebackers, Mitchell might make more sense for the scheme than Henderson. Mitchell wasn’t a sack guy in New Orleans, notching only one in all his years there, but then again he was never a starter.
All this is only conjecture. What we know for sure is this: There’s a new positional battle heating up that we never expected. Adjust your depth chart projections accordingly.