Briggs has made the past three Pro Bowls and got a six-year, $36 million deal to stay. He's in his prime and is almost three years younger than Urlacher, who disrupted the offseason with his efforts to re-do a contract that had four years remaining. He hasn't gotten the extension he wants, but Urlacher remains the leader of the defense and is an impact player, even though he missed the Pro Bowl last year for just the second time in eight seasons. The unheralded Hillenmeyer gets overlooked, but he is assignment-sound and a major contributor in the base defense. Williams is the best and most versatile of a young group of backups, and he may be the only one with starting potential. Wilson and Roach are undersized but both can run and have played well on special teams. Okwo got hurt too early last season as a rookie to prove much.
Sims is set on the weak side. The other two spots are up for grabs. The Lions would like Dizon to develop quickly as a rookie, allowing veteran Lenon to move to the strong side. Davis is an intriguing prospect, a third-round pick last year who was quickly cut by Arizona. Gardner and Fincher provide some veteran depth.
Caleb Campbell has been ordered to give up professional football after a change in military policy. The Army grad entered the draft thanks to an Army policy that would have allowed him to be a recruiter if he made the Lions. But a Department of Defense policy has trumped the Army's policy. Campbell can ask to be released from his military commitment in May 2010.
E.J. Henderson made a smooth transition back to the middle last season after having spent two seasons playing the weak side. Henderson, who replaced Napoleon Harris after Harris signed with the Chiefs, led the Vikings with 155 tackles and also had 4.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 19 quarterback hurries. Greenway slid into Henderson's former spot and made steady improvement after sitting out his rookie season because of a knee injury. Leber is a steady presence on the strong side — he tied for the team lead with five sacks — and barring injury, the Vikings should be set at linebacker. That means the backup spots will go to the players who can contribute the most on special teams. Farwell has been a standout in this area and Ciurciu was signed as a free agent in 2007 because of his abilities to play on every special-teams unit. Pope was added this offseason to replace Dontarrious Thomas, who departed to sign with the 49ers. Pope also embraces the role of contributing on special teams. Alexander missed his rookie season because of a knee injury but the sixth-round pick from 2007 should get a shot to make the roster. Erin Henderson, E.J.'s little brother, was expected to be taken in last April's draft but ended up signing as a free agent with the Vikings.