Marvin Mitchell came to the Minnesota Vikings looking for a shot at a starting linebacker spot. That didn't happen at the beginning of the regular season, but because of an injury to Erin Henderson, Mitchell is likely to be making his first start as a Viking on Sunday.
Henderson suffered a concussion against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday and hasn't practice at all this week, making it increasingly more likely that Mitchell's first start in purple will come against one of the league's best teams, the San Francisco 49ers.
Despite a strong defense and solid running game, Mitchell said the 49ers' offensive philosophy can be a bit misleading. They appear to be a team focused on using running back Frank Gore early and often, but Mitchell is well aware of the receiving threat they now have.
"I think that's how they try to lull you to sleep to get those shots with those different personalities," Mitchell said. "(They) get you saying they're going to run the ball, they're going to run the ball, they're going to run the ball. But then as you see on the film, they spread it out and they take their shots and use those guys to their abilities."
One week after Henderson was called out for allowing a receiver to get behind him for a touchdown late in the first half of the Vikings' 23-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Mitchell, his fellow linebackers, and the safeties will all have to be aware of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. In only two games, Davis already has eight catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
The 49ers will make Mitchell's challenge a large one because of their versatile offense. In addition to the league's third-ranked rushing offense, they have a plethora of receivers – Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins among them – despite only having the 25th-ranked passing offense.
"It's a very solid team, probably one of the best in the NFC, watching film on these guys," Mitchell said. "They try to take it back to old-school football. They try to run it down your throat and take some shots. I think this is the NFL. This is a simple team? I don't think anything is simple."
Mitchell entered the league as a middle linebacker after being a seventh-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2007. With the Saints, he made two regular-season starts and two starts in the playoffs before joining the Miami Dolphins last year.
As a middle linebacker initially, he became used to learning everyone's job on defense, especially the other linebackers, something he anticipates will help if he gets his fifth NFL start Sunday.
"As a linebacker, you really want to know where all three guys are at. That's what I do when I go out there – I want to know where the Mike's at, where the Will's at, where the Sam is at on each and every play," Mitchell said, referring to the three linebacker spots. "So I pretty much go out there and play all three of them."
With five years of experience behind him, he said learning the Vikings' system wasn't too big of a challenge. He has operated in Cover-2 concepts before, but he said every defensive coordinator puts his own spin on the base package.
The challenge will be executing it against a balanced and successful 49ers offense.
"Their coach has got those guys going. They've got confidence. I think when you have those two things – a great attitude and confidence as a football player – you can't do nothing but be successful."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
LB Mitchell ready for starting challenge
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