The Vikings will need to make some kind of move at linebacker this offseason if they want their defense to continue developing. Chad Greenway is a solid strong-side tackling machine and occasional playmaker but what about the other two spots? Jasper Brinkley showed flashes as a run defender last year but struggled mightily in coverage and seemed to actually regress in both areas as the season proceeded. Weak-side backer Erin Henderson also has value on running downs but continues to be a liability in nickel situations.
Replacing both Henderson and Brinkley this year is probably not realistic. Both are free agents and I have to believe the plan is to re-sign one of them and let the other walk. This will leave the Vikings needing a starting-quality linebacker. You look at the potential free agent options in that standard Rick Spielman middle-to-low price range and there aren’t a ton of guys who stand out. One guy who does look promising, at least to me, is Nick Roach of the Chicago Bears.
Roach emerged a little bit in 2012 thanks in part to Brian Urlacher’s injury. Roach was able to slide in and play well at middle linebacker in Urlacher’s place. The great thing about Roach is that he’s not exclusively a Mike. Roach has actually played all three linebacker positions for the Bears and held his own in all situations. No, this is not a hugely gifted guy physically. But Roach is a very heady player who seldom makes mistakes. He did end up with decent numbers last year and would likely be an upgrade over either Erin Henderson at Will or Jasper Brinkley at Mike. Obviously the schematic fit is a good one with the Bears employing the Tampa-2.
Getting Roach away from the Bears might not be easy though. The Bears are going into a transitional season with a new staff coming in and Brian Urlacher likely on his way out. A guy like Roach, who can play multiple positions with proficiency, is the kind of guy they will probably want to keep. But if it so happens that Roach is not part of the Bears’ plans, I could see the Vikings offering him a deal. He’s 27 so age isn’t a problem. Like I said, the great thing about this guy is his versatility. You could sign him to play either outside or inside, and count on him to do a good job. He might be best used in the middle, if you had to pick a spot right now.
My favorite attribute with Roach is the headiness. After watching both Brinkley and Henderson habitually miss coverage assignments last year, well, I think the Vikings could use a smart linebacker who knows where he’s supposed to be at all times. Nobody’s asking this guy to be an All Pro. But if he can just play his role well and not get caught out of position constantly, and maybe make a big play now and then, he would already be better than Erin or Jasper.