Dec 8, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Audie Cole (57) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Vikings Position Battle: Linebackers

It’s that time of year where a team is loaded up on talent at many positions.  Sadly, not all of those players will go on to make the 53 man roster or the practice squad.  This the the ninth installment in the Minnesota Vikings position battle series and is all about the linebackers!

Let’s take a look at the linebackers currently on the roster:

Here’s a quick breakdown of each of these guys:

Dom DeCicco has played in 20 games with the Chicago Bears over his two year career so far.  All of his statistics come from his rookie year, where he had 12 tackles.  Since then, he’s had a 10-month stay with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before landing with the Minnesota Vikings.  He will have a lot to prove during preseason in order to get a spot on the roster.

Nov 7, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Gerald Hodges (54) runs downfield on a kickoff against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings win 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Gerald Hodges was a 4th round draft pick in 2013.  He didn’t see the field much last season despite injuries and a lack of defensive talent.  Hopefully, this has less to do with his level of talent and more to do with the ineptitude of last year’s coaching staff.  Hodges should be able to make a good impression on the new crew and be part of a healthy defensive rotation.

Larry Dean is one of those guys that fans never seem to expect to make the roster, but seems to latch on anyway.  There’s a great reason for him being with the team though.  His contributions on special teams and ability to be a decent quality backup linebacker make him a valuable asset to the team. Special teams are the most overlooked part of a team that can make a huge impact.

Chad Greenway has been criticized by fans and the media recently because of his lack of production the last couple seasons.  Personally, I attribute that to injury, poor supporting cast, and an out of date scheme.  I fully expect to see Greenway playing at a very high level this year and the Minnesota Vikings may have to count on him to do it because of a lack of high quality backups.

Jasper Brinkley is a former Viking who spent a season with Arizona last year. Minnesota seemed uncomfortable with the experience of their linebacking group and brought Brinkley in to compete for a starting job at middle linebacker.  After Erin Henderson was not brought back by the Vikings, they’ll need to find someone to hold down the spot for the foreseeable future.

Jun 17, 2014; Eden Prairie, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (55) approaches a tackling dummy at practice at Winter Park. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Barr was a surprise to some when he was selected with the 9th overall pick in this year’s draft.  Head coach Mike Zimmer has plans to play him all over the field and give the defense several different looks to throw off opposing offenses.  He could prove to be a Von Miller caliber player if he can play up to his his potential in the new defensive scheme.

Michael Mauti was a seventh round draft pick last year and spent a lot of last year trying to get healthy and return to play.  Expectations for this kid vary wildly according to which media outlet you follow, but he could very well compete for the starting job with Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole.  When healthy in college, he looked like a beast, so this could be a steal for the Vikings.

Audie Cole is a preseason monster.  Lots of folks can recall the preseason game where Cole took back-to-back interceptions to the house for touchdowns.  He seemed to play fairly well last year when he was plugged in for Erin Henderson.  As a matter of fact, he took that starting job and never looked back.  Cole might be the favorite for the starting middle linebacker job this year.

Brandon Watts was a seventh round draft pick in the draft this year.  He is 23 years old and played his college ball at Georgia Tech.  Watts is a speedster who could find himself being the spoiler of this group of linebackers.  He also was a gunner on special teams.  If he plays well enough during the preseason, he could push for a valuable spot on the 53 as a special teamer.

Mike Zimmer is an interesting name to add to the team.  Not to be confused with Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, he is a second year NFL linebacker out of Illinois after spending last year’s preseason with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Zimmer will be one of the young players fighting for a spot on the practice squad this year.

My Prediction

Here are the players I see making the 53 man roster:

Analysis of My Prediction

Greenway will be the only returning starting linebacker from last year’s season opener.  Past him, we’ll see the rookie Anthony Barr used all over the field opposite Chad.  The major question mark will be the middle linebacker.  That will be a huge competition between Cole, Mauti, and Brinkley.  I see Hodges latching on to split time with Barr until he is accustomed to the NFL level.  Larry Dean is an excellent special teams player who could be a decent backup in a pinch if needed.

Past those that make the 53 man roster, I don’t see a lot of young guys that I can tab as practice squad bodies.  They will have to fight hard to latch on to a role with the team.

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Tags: Anthony Barr Audie Cole Chad Greenway Jasper Brinkley Michael Mauti Minnesota Vikings

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