For now, Marvin Mitchell is the Vikings' starting weakside linebacker, but the competition is everywhere.
Desmond Bishop was signed after minicamp and is expected to have the upper hand at that position, but Bishop has been dealing with a groin injury that has kept him out of action since Friday.
Gerald Hodges was drafted in the fourth round and expected to at least compete for that position. Still, after nine days of practice, Mitchell remains working with the first-team base defense.
"Every year I prepare myself as the starter. When I was in New Orleans I was (not a starter) and I prepared myself as a starter. When I was in Miami, I prepared myself as a starter," Mitchell said. "This year is kind of different that I was actually going out there with the ones and competing. I was able to get a lot of those first-team reps being with the first guys and knowing those guys were going to be out there in game days."
In his seventh NFL season, Mitchell has started four regular-season games and two in the playoffs. Last year, in his first season with the Vikings, however, he was mostly a special teams player – playing in only 4 percent of the defensive snaps but almost 40 percent of the special teams downs.
Still, that's not a label he embraces.
"I don't think of myself as a special teams guy. I go in here and prepare myself as a starter each and every year," he said. "I think every guy, if they don't have that mentality in training camp, you've got a long ways to go. I think if you put a cap on yourself and say, hey, you're a special teams guy, it's going to be hard for you to make this team. I go each and every year and prepare as a starter and if I'm on special teams, I'm on special teams."
Mitchell signed only a one-year contract this offseason, so there is plenty of financial motivation for him to continue to hold down a starting role, even if there seems more likely candidates by the time the regular season begins.
Bishop should be the primary competition, but Mitchell said he had "no reaction" when the Vikings signed Bishop after minicamp in June.
"Each year it's competition out there. The way you make your team better is to bring in more competition. Each year, you see the good teams do that. They have competition from top to bottom," Mitchell said.
"I think I can play all three (linebacker spots). I'm versatile in run and pass. I really don't know what (Bishop) has to offer. I just know he is real cool and it's a good piece of the puzzle, hearing things that he did in Green Bay."
Head coach Leslie Frazier said Bishop, Mitchell and fourth-round draft pick Gerald Hodges would all compete for the weakside linebacker spot when training camp opened. Mitchell, however, has been the main contributor in the Vikings' first-team base defense in training camp while Bishop has been slowed by injury.
"He's going to have to get acclimated to the way we do things, his new teammates, this environment, a new system and just finding his way," Frazier said of Bishop at the start of training camp. "There are a lot of challenges for him with the fact that he missed the entire offseason and then you combine that with the fact that he didn't play at all last season. He's still recovering from an injury; he's still gaining his confidence physically so there are a lot of factors that will go into how fast he comes along. But he seems to be a very bright guy, a very mature guy, so I think those things will come, but there's a process that he has to go through."
Mitchell's process at this time is trying to prove he deserves to stay in the starting lineup, a designation he hasn't maintained during his six-year NFL career.
"My job is just experience, making plays, believing my eyes and reading and making plays," he said. "I've got a lot confidence, believing in myself to go out there and make those plays."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Mitchell wants to be more than special teamer
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