Middle rounds time to address middle of ‘D'

The Vikings spent more money on the defensive line and the secondary in free agency, but there are good odds they draft at least one linebacker, probably in the middle rounds. Their predraft visits clue into a couple of possibilities and GM Rick Spielman talked about the process.

The Vikings addressed the defensive line and secondary in the free agency, but the linebackers only got limited action in free agency with the addition of Jasper Brinkley.

So without their two main starters at middle linebacker (Erin Henderson) and weakside linebacker (Marvin Mitchell) on the roster anymore, there is little doubt the Vikings will add at least one more linebacker via the draft. One of the popular picks for the Vikings with their first-round selection – No. 8 overall – is outside linebacker Anthony Barr. The UCLA playmaker was one of the Vikings' predraft visits, but they also hosted a couple of other linebackers that are expected to be mid-round values.

General manager Rick Spielman admitted that the team will look to address their linebacker corps at some point in the draft.

"That's one area we'll look at. But I think there's some value with the linebackers through the middle rounds," Spielman said. "There's going to be some guys there even in that fourth and fifth round that are potential guys.

"The coaches are experimenting now with the current guys we have, development of where (Gerald) Hodges is coming, where (Mike) Mauti is coming from last year, where Audie Cole fits into the picture. Chad Greenway seems healthy and has had a great offseason so far. We signed Jasper Brinkley back, so … they're trying to figure out all that as we go through. That's what all this offseason is for."

Last week was spent working with the current players on the field during the veteran minicamp afforded to new coaching staffs. This week, it's all about the future with the draft.

NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas has Preston Brown, one of the Vikings' predraft visitors, projected as a fifth-round pick and gives him a grade of 6, meaning he considers Brown a potential starter in the future.

"Despite some hip stiffness, Brown stays low in his pads and generates enough burst to make plays in space. He shows excellent body control in the open and is a classic wrap-up tackler who will jolt the ball carriers back upon contact," Thomas wrote in his evaluation of middle linebackers. "He is quick to fill the rush lanes and has the size to stun offensive linemen but needs to do a better job with his hands, as he sometimes struggles to disengage when working in-line.

"When he is active with his hands, Brown gets to the play and can string it wide. His speed makes it very difficult for the offensive lineman to contain when coming off the backside. He also has the quickness and stride to reach outside and displays the instincts to sniff out the ball and make the play. His acceleration is the reason that he consistently makes the cut-off."

Brown started 36 of 52 games at Louisville, beginning at outside linebacker for his first 11 starts before moving to middle linebacker. He became just the 12th player to lead Louisville in tackles in multiple seasons since the Cardinals officially started compiling defensive records in 1962.

Demarcus Lawrence, another predraft visitor, is compared by Thomas to another productive linebacker Mike Zimmer had at Cincinnati, James Harrison. Thomas classified Lawrence with the pass-rushing defensive ends, where he ranked him second to only Jadeveon Clowney.

But the NFL scout also believes Lawrence's pass-rushing skills might be best utilized from the linebacker spot.

"He is very quick off the ball, thanks to an explosive initial step. He shows good feet, along with above-average spin and swim moves. He generates a sudden burst to get to the quarterback after he clears his blocker. He has functional up-field speed and is effective on the bull rush due to good counter moves when pressuring," Thomas wrote.

"Lawrence chases hard all the time and makes a lot of plays out of sheer effort. He can look choppy when he tries to get through the interior trash, but has the straight-line burst to close on the ball-carrier or quarterback. He shows an explosive burst to flush out the passer. Coming off the edge, he sets his sight on the quarterback and will not stop until the whistle."

Lawrence played only two seasons in the major college ranks at Boise State, but his 20 sacks rank sixth in Mountain West Conference annals and tied for seventh on the BSU chart. He was also 14th in school annals with 34 tackles for a loss.

For his entire college career, Lawrence started all 34 games he appeared in, recording 192 tackles (113 solos) with 32 sacks, 53 tackles-for-loss, six fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles, four pass deflections and an interception.

But there are also off-field issues, missing games for violating team rules and disciplinary issues.

For Brown or any other middle linebacker the Vikings might draft, being able to grasp the playbook early has been a topic of discussion among coaches and scouts.

"I think there's always a learning curve. There are some guys that won't have an issue," Spielman said. "A lot of that is based off of not only what the coaches tell you, but from our two different psychological testing, intelligence testing, if they're going to be able to do that, then we follow up on that with personal interviews.

"I sit there and ask the scout or coach directly, if I didn't talk to the guy, is this guy going to be able to learn our system or is he going to take some time? They will tell me this guy will have no issues or this guy will have no issues."

There is little doubt the Vikings will be discussing linebacker possibilities throughout the draft. And with the depth in this draft, there could be as good an opportunity to snag a starting linebacker in the third day as ever.

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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