Countdown to camp: LB a position of intrigue

For those who like to make roster projections, linebacker could be the most interesting position on the Vikings. The addition of Desmond Bishop throws a wrench into some of the minicamp groupings for the start of training camp.

The numbers: Last year—7. Current count—10. Projection this year—7.

The candidates: Desmond Bishop, Audie Cole, Larry Dean, Chad Greenway, Gerald Hodges, Erin Henderson, Michael Mauti, Tyrone McKenzie, Marvin Mitchell, Nate Williams.

The locks: Greenway, Bishop, Henderson, Hodges.

The sleeper: It might be hard to classify Cole as a sleeper after making the 53-man roster last year, but he didn't see more than one snap on defense in the regular season.

The longshot: Start with an undrafted rookie status and throw in an injury that didn't allow action at during the offseason and you have Nate Williams, a young player with a lot of ground to make up just to have a shot at the practice squad.

The analysis: Chad Greenway is expected to be back to full strength for the start of training camp after having arthroscopic knee surgery on June 12, but the biggest changes at linebacker will come next to him. Because of Jasper Brinkley signing a free agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals, Erin Henderson was making the transition from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker and had been practicing there since May. It was a change he welcomed because it would keep him him on the field full-time. But with the signing of Desmond Bishop, either of them could end up at middle linebacker with the other playing on the weak side. Veteran Marvin Mitchell got the majority of the first-team repetitions there during organized team activities and minicamp, but fourth-round draft pick Gerald Hodges can work himself into relevance once the rookie is acclimated to the defense and the pads go on in training camp. It could send Mitchell from potential starter to potential roster jeopardy. Rookie Michael Mauti, second-year pro Audie Cole and veteran Tyrone McKenzie are also hoping for a chance to make an impression at middle linebacker and stay employed, but Mauti's recovery from knee surgery last year and the inexperience of the others will make linebacker an interesting watch at camp.

Chad Greenway: Greenway has hit his stride and can now be considered the reliable veteran leader of the linebacker corps and maybe the entire defense. No one played more than Greenway's 99 percent of the defensive snaps.

Desmond Bishop: His acquisition does two things entering training camp. It makes the position battles a little cloudier, but it definitely adds experienced depth to the unit.

Erin Henderson: Will he be the starter on the weak side or in the middle after the addition of Bishop? He left the impression that the main thing he wanted was to be on the field full-time. That could still happen even if he moves back outside.

Gerald Hodges: If not for the acquisition of Bishop, Hodges was the choice here to eventually take the previous opening at weakside linebacker, but, barring injury, he will be given the opportunity to develop in the background and be a special teams leader.

Marvin Mitchell: It will be interesting to watch how the remainder of the battles play out now that Bishop is in the fold. It's possible Mitchell goes from offseason "starter" to on the bubble of the roster if the Vikings opt to develop younger talent instead of keeping high-priced veterans who may have plateaued.

Audie Cole: He had a great preseason last year, highlighted by two interception returns for touchdowns in the same game against the Buffalo Bills. His 6-foot-5 frame in the middle of the field could disrupt some passing games, but that will have to wait a year or two to get put the test.

Michael Mauti: From the NFL Scouting Combine until the close of offseason practices, Mauti insisted he would be ready for training camp. If he is, he will have to show his mental reps in May and June can be quickly trusted in the preseason. If he's not ready then, he could be a candidate for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start the season.

Larry Dean: So far, Dean has been relied on almost exclusively for his special teams abilities. Can he continue to hang onto a roster spot for another year? If so, it will likely be as the last linebacker standing.

Tyrone McKenzie: The Vikings have been developing McKenzie for two years, but with Bishop and two draft picks among the linebacker additions, it could be the end of the line for him despite leading special teams with 20 tackles last year.

Nate Williams: An ankle injury took away his offseason opportunity to impress. His only real shot is on the practice squad.

The projection: Greenway, Bishop, Henderson, Hodges, Mitchell, Cole, Mauti.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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