May 29, 2013; Eden Prairie, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Nathan Williams (59) and linebacker Gerald Hodges (54) and linebacker Erin Henderson (50) run a drill at the Minnesota Vikings OTA at Winter Park. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings Top 5 Camp Battles: #1 Linebacker

Our little series on the upcoming camp battles concludes with a look at linebacker (we already looked at receiver, safety, nose tackle and right guard). This one wasn’t figuring to be much of a battle as of a few weeks ago. Then the Vikes picked up Desmond Bishop at a bargain price. Now everything is up in the air at not one but two linebacker positions. Let’s run down the combatants in what is by far the most intriguing positional battle.

Erin Henderson

He was officially moved to the middle prior to minicamp (after the Vikings failed to draft a Mike). Too bad he has absolutely no experience playing the middle. Can he step into that position in camp and show Leslie Frazier, Alan Williams and the gang enough proficiency to hold on to his new job? Or will he be going back to the Will? He has a lot of confidence but confidence isn’t enough.

Desmond Bishop

The former Packer has played the middle in 4-3 before. That gives him a distinct advantage over Henderson who has never played there. But Bishop is coming off an injury. He needs to have the mobility to range in the middle. If his leg is good and he wins the job, he represents a major upgrade over Jasper Brinkley. With Chad Greenway doing what he does, Bishop playing the middle and Erin back at Will, the Vikes could potentially have a solid linebacker corps. But it depends on Bishop. We won’t know anything until camp kicks off and he gets out there and starts moving around. The Vikes gave him only $50,000 in guaranteed money so there’s not much financially at stake. This is the defintion of low-risk/high-reward.

Marvin Mitchell/Audie Cole/Larry Dean/Tyrone McKenzie/Gerald Hodges/Michael Mauti

Henderson and Bishop aren’t the only guys potentially involved in this battle. What if Bishop is physically unable to get it done? What if Henderson just looks horrible at the Mike? The Vikes need to find three starting linebackers one way or the other. Marvin Mitchell played the Will in minicamp and would figure to be the guy there if something goes wrong with Bishop and/or Henderson. Obviously this is not an ideal situation, Mitchell being little more than a servicable veteran at this point. Ditto Tyrone McKenzie. Audie Cole at least has the intrigue factor going for him but it’s hard to see him realistically ending up in the mix. Same goes for Larry Dean. The real x-factor guy here is rookie Gerald Hodges. Leslie Frazier hates giving rookies a shot if there are veterans at the same position but could Hodges still somehow end up in the mix? He brings a background as a safety to the table. And coverage was the thing the Vikings truly lacked from their linebackers last season. I have to believe the Vikes had a specific plan in mind when they drafted Hodges. That plan was for him to end up at the Will and to remain on the field in nickel. But I think he is a long-shot to win a starting job in camp. This time next year we may be talking about him more seriously. Michael Mauti? Let’s see him progress in his rehab before we go expecting anything.

That wraps up our look at upcoming camp battles. We’re less than two weeks away from Mankato. The preseason is beginning to close in. Soon we will be watching real football again. That’s good news because I am truly sick of baseball.

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