The Vikings haven't revealed their defensive leanings yet, but given the history of new head coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards it seems likely they'll use multiple fronts, almost a hybrid of the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes.
If that's the case, there is a draft prospect rote on both. University of Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland has played in both schemes, has played for multiple coaches and has played multiple linebacker positions. The last phrase was true even during Senior Bowl week, when Borland practiced at both middle linebacker and weakside linebacker in the 4-3 scheme.
"I've done well in all of them. … I feel equally comfortable in both (linebacker positions)," he said. "I know some guys physically are better suited for certain positions, but I'm comfortable in any role.
"I have no preference. I enjoy both. They're not all that different. I think they're a little bit interchangeable in this defense. I enjoy both."
The Vikings, of course, has several questions at linebacker. Chad Greenway is set for 2014, but beyond him there is no surefire supporting cast. Erin Henderson's off-the-field troubles in 2013 have his status with the team tenuous. Weakside linebackers Marvin Mitchell and Desmond Bishop are both free agents, and Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges have varying levels of experience but none of them have proved much just yet.
Borland was certainly productive at Wisconsin, earning the Nagurski-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and media, and won the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
He finished his career ranked sixth in Badgers history in tackles (420) and fourth in career tackles-for-loss (50). He also set the Big Ten record with 15 forced fumbles in his career, the second-most in FBS history.
Leadership, he said, is a "strong suit" of his.
"I think I could step in there and play defense and make the calls and be confident, and guys can rely on me," Borland said.
"My position requires (leadership). I think I've grown into that role. I don't think I was that guy when I was young. I don't think I'm that guy off the field. But the position requires it and I enjoy it so I've tried to master it."
Teammates and scouts have to respect what Borland accomplished at Wisconsin. Coming out of the football hotbed in Ohio, Borland was ranked only the 55th linebacker in the country by Scout.com.
Checking in at the Senior Bowl last week, he measured only 5-foot-11 3/8 and weighed 245 pounds. That isn't prototypical height for an NFL linebacker and tying for the shortest arms (28-5/8 inches) further adds to the negatives by those who like to project based on measurables.
But Borland has heard the criticisms and aims to continue to prove the doubters wrong.
"I think there may be a perception that I'm not a great athlete. I feel like I am," he said. "I've got good speed, change of direction and those things, and I'm physical so that shouldn't be a problem."
The offseason workouts aren't the ideal place to show his physicality. That will reveal itself in film study. But he can try to prove his athleticism in the "underwear Olympics" at the NFL Scouting Combine and he tried to further his athletic assertions at the Senior Bowl.
"I think it's such a small period of time and you really have to capitalize on all of your opportunities," he said. "The pass rush, maybe. One-on-ones and the pass game, 9-on-7, skelly, special teams, just to show what I can do in all those realms and be consistently very good. That will be the challenge.
"Functionally there are things that they want to make sure that you can do as an athlete in a football game. So I want to show I can do that."
His performance in last weekend's Senior Bowl should have helped his cause. He led both teams with eight tackles, including one for a loss, and, naturally, had a forced fumble.
He proved he has the versatility in schemes, the ability to learn quickly and the production on the field. Whether that translates to a Day 2 or Day 3 selection in May's NFL draft and what team picks him remains to be seen.
But he's used to "overachieving" relative to the perception. In 2009, he was ranked 55th in the country at his position by Scout.com, given a two-star rating (out of five) and didn't receive a scholarship offer until attending Wisconsin's football camp. Five years later, he's still looking to prove he belongs, this time at the next level.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Borland versatile, productive, despite size
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