The Minnesota Vikings may be facing an interesting situation at linebacker this weekend when they head out west to take on the Oakland Raiders. Anthony Barr (who’s had a cast on his left hand) and Eric Kendricks (ribs) didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday and it calls into question whether or not they will be able to go on Sunday.
Odds are one or both will be able to go this weekend, barring any setbacks, and head coach Mike Zimmer also seems confident that they will go. But say they can’t go, what will the Vikings’ game plan be?
If Thursday’s practice is any indication, it seems as though Chad Greenway will move from the weakside linebacker position to the middle and fill in for Kendricks. Brandon Watts would then move to the weak side and Edmond Robinson would take Barr’s spot on as the strongside linebacker.
Robinson was drafted by the Vikings this offseason in the seventh round out of Division II Newberry College. He hasn’t received any defensive snaps yet this season, but the coaching staff expects him to be ready to go if his number is called.
“We preach it all the time,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We’ve been preparing him now for the last couple of weeks. He’s been going into the games; we’ve been preparing him each week, getting ready for games. We expect him, if his number is called, to be able to step in and be able to execute what it is we’ve got planned.”
Even though Robinson hasn’t been getting snaps on defense during games, he has been starting to get more snaps on special teams and he feels as though that is only going to help him if he is forced to fill in for Barr.
“It teaches you that you have to be physical, that you have to be fast each and every play,” he said. “You can’t take any plays off so you just be appreciative of just being out there and getting the reps that you get. Whenever my chance does come once again on defense I’ll be ready to go because I’ve been acclimated to the game speed on special teams.”
Earlier in the season the Vikings traded Gerald Hodges to the San Francisco 49ers, which then made Kendricks the starting middle linebacker and Audie Cole and Robinson the backups. But instead of relying on both those players, the Vikings also decided to activate Watts off their practice squad as insurance.
Watts then got the opportunity to see the field before Robinson did, but that didn’t discourage the rookie. He understands that he and Watts fill different needs for the Vikings, so it made sense that the coaches would go with Watts in that situation.
But Robinson feels as though he is in a different place now than he was. He has been working hard to learn the playbook and not only learn the strongside linebacker position but the other two as well.
“In the beginning of the season or even the preseason you’re out there trying to get comfortable with the game speed and get comfortable with all the game plays and stuff,” he said. “As of right now I feel more comfortable. I’ve been getting a little more reps on defense in practice, so I just use those as a stepping stone for the next step for me.”
One of the strengths of Robinson’s game is working in pass coverage. He played sort of a hybrid linebacker role in college and was forced to cover wide receivers, tight ends and running backs on a regular basis. However, because he was dropping back in coverage so often he never had to focus on rushing the passer much.
He feels that is where he still needs to improve the most, and it could be a much different look for Vikings fans if Robinson is forced to fill in for Barr, who is known as being a talented pass rusher.
“The most I’m probably working on is my pass rushing,” Robinson said. “That’s something that I haven’t done a lot of, but on the scout-team defense I play the stand-up outside linebacker, so I get a lot of chances to rush the passer. So I’m just trying to get my feet beneath me on some of those things.”
As mentioned earlier, it sounds as though both Barr and Kendricks will be able to go this Sunday against the Raiders, but if they can’t Robinson is ready to make the most of his first defensive snaps in a regular season game.