Vikings’ deep pre-camp preview: Linebackers

Chad Greenway was the workhorse of the defense despite playing with a broken wrist. How did the he, with one of the team’s top contracts perform, and how about the other starters that are no longer with the team? We look at the stats, metrics and salary, as well as picking a breakout possibility and sleeper for 2014.

The players: Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, Anthony Barr, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Audie Cole, Brandon Watts, Larry Dean, Dom DeCicco, Mike Zimmer.

Positional spending: Despite a big contract for Chad Greenway, the Minnesota Vikings are only 20th in spending on the linebacker position, according to underthecap.com, with $14.07 million committed to the position. Greenway’s $7.2 million cap number for 2014 accounts for over half the total investment in the position and his cap number grows to $8.8 million in 2015, the final year of the deal that he renegotiated in March that had him dropping $1 million off the top this year. Despite that savings for the Vikings, he still owns the fifth-most expensive contract on the team when measured on an average annual basis.

Last year: Greenway’s performance in 2014 likely will dictate whether he reaches the final year of his contract or not. His base salary for this year is guaranteed, but if the Vikings cut him after this year, they would save $7.1 million in salary with $1.7 million in dead money. Last year was not the kind of season Greenway can hold up as proof he should be paid that well. He struggled to tackle, but there was a good reason for that – he was playing most of the season with a broken wrist. He garnered a decidedly negative grade from the statistical website Pro Football Focus and was ranked only 34th among the outside linebackers in a 4-3 scheme after ranking 22nd in 2012 with a pretty neutral grade.

The outlook: Still, if the wrist was the main factor in Greenway’s down year, he should rebound in 2014 and is expected to be one of the leaders on defense. He still managed to easily lead the team in tackles with 167, according to the coaches’ film review, adding three sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hurries and three interceptions. There is also the sense that he will be one of the defensive players that new head coach Mike Zimmer leans on.

Middle linebacker is very much up for grabs between Jasper Brinkley, Michael Mauti and Audie Cole, and all of them could make the final roster, but there will be plenty of competition between them and Gerald Hodges, Brandon Watts and Larry Dean for the final spots where special teams contributions should be a factor.

Deep stats: Despite his broken wrist, Greenway was easily the workhorse of the defense, playing in 98.8 percent of the defensive snaps and another 20 percent of the snaps on special teams. Middle linebacker Erin Henderson played in almost 73 percent of the snaps, but after that it was mess of a rotation at the position. Henderson, Desmond Bishop and Marvin Mitchell – all starters at one point in the 2013 season – are all now unemployed.

Ironically, Mitchell, Henderson and Bishop were the starters that produced a positive rushing differential – the measure of yards gained per play when the player is on the field vs. off the field – while Greenway was at a minus-0.09, with a relatively neutral grade expected with how infrequently he came off the field. Mitchell and Bishop also had positive passing differentials, while Greenway was neutral and Henderson was at minus-0.14.

Breakout possibility: Some analysts believed the Vikings stretched Barr’s value by selecting him at No. 9 overall, but his skill set and head coach Mike Zimmer’s ability to mold linebackers could be an ideal marriage once Barr gets comfortable.

Sleeper potential: Mauti is finally healthy after three knee surgeries at Penn State and could prove to be a steal as a 2013 seventh-round draft choice. The question for him is likely to come down to coverage ability.


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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