Chad Greenway stands in way of Vikings fielding great young LB corps


Preseason has convinced me of one thing: Eric Kendricks is going to be a heck of an NFL linebacker.

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But when the season starts, Kendricks will be spending a lot of his time on the sidelines watching. Because as of now the plan is to use him only as a part-time player.

Mike Zimmer justified employing his dynamic rookie only as a nickel linebacker and situational fill-in for starting MLB Gerald Hodges by comparing the linebacker position to the defensive line (via 1500ESPN):

"“We’re just trying to get the correct matchups, the best situation for us defensively,” Zimmer said. “We rotate defensive line, so I don’t know why it’s a big issue to rotate linebackers. If we have enough quality to do that, that’s important. We’re not going to rotate defensive linemen [if] we don’t feel like the guys we put in there are ready to go and vice versa for the linebackers.”"

It sounds good but it’s a little disingenuous. Yes it’s true that the Vikings have multiple linebackers who are probably worthy of starting. But it’s also true that three of those linebackers are clearly superior to the others and should be the ones playing the majority of the time.

And those three men are Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges and Eric Kendricks.

With those men on the field together, the Vikings would have the makings of a potentially great young linebacker corps, with Audie Cole as a very strong primary backup.

Who is the odd-man-out in this whole mix? Obviously it’s Chad Greenway.

At 32, Chad Greenway is clearly not the player he used to be. His performance in 2014 showed that he doesn’t have much left in the tank. And there’s no gas station he can pull into and fill that thing back up.

Why did the Vikings bring the almost-over-the-hill Greenway back on a re-structured contract? Mike Zimmer likes his veteran leadership.

The veteran leadership thing is fine, every team needs it, but not at the expense of on-field performance.

The Vikings would be better off had they not brought Greenway back. They could have plugged Eric Kendricks in as the Will linebacker and let him go nuts.

We saw on Saturday against Dallas that Eric Kendricks has crazy range and closing speed. We’ve seen him tackle well. We’ve seen him bring guys down in the open field. We’ve seen him blitz.

We know he can handle coverage or the Vikings wouldn’t be using him in the nickel.

This guy is so good, it’s a shame we won’t get to see him playing every down.

The crying from fans is going to get loud the first time Greenway gets burned. And they will have a very legitimate point.

Do the Vikings not already have enough veteran leadership on the field with Harrison Smith, Terence Newman, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph?

Yes I realize you want a linebacker to be the “quarterback” of the defense. That’s a role Greenway can fill. But Greenway won’t even be on the field a lot of the time, as he’s swapped out in nickel.

So if you trust those guys to get it done in nickel without Greenway the traffic cop out there, why not take it the next step?

I realize the Vikings are not going to cut Greenway and I realize he’s not going to just do us all a favor and retire. I wish the team hadn’t brought him back.

I wish the Vikings had just moved forward with the youth movement at linebacker. I’m guessing Mike Zimmer deep down wishes they had done so as well. Hindsight and all.

But at least they’ve come to their senses and yanked Greenway from nickel. That’s progress.

For fans, I guess we’ll just have to enjoy what we get to see of Kendricks. And get ready for 2016 when the Vikings will have potentially one of the league’s best linebacker trios.

It would probably be better for the team in the long-term if Kendricks got to play with Hodges and Barr right away, so those guys could start growing together.

But as Chad Greenway would no doubt say, “It is what it is.”

Next: Mick Tingelhoff enters Hall of Fame

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