Veteran Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway may have given the most definitive indication to date that the Vikings will likely be without Anthony Barr Thursday when the team plays the Arizona Cardinals.
Just as a quarterback has a helmet with a wireless microphone inside that allows him to communicate with the coaching staff prior to plays, there is a similar helmet worn on the defensive side of the ball.
Typically, that helmet is worn by the middle linebacker, who is instructed about the personnel grouping in the huddle and what sort of formation the coaching staff anticipates to help align the defense accordingly.
That isn’t the case with the Vikings because middle linebacker Eric Kendricks is a rookie and hasn’t yet been entrusted with that type of responsibility. Considering that Greenway has been a part-time player who sees action in the base defense, but not as much on passing downs when everyone is healthy, the wired-up helmet has been worn by Barr, who is on the field for nearly every snap when healthy.
Last week when Barr was injured, Greenway took over that responsibility, being handed the communications helmet on the fly in between plays with the clock ticking.
It’s a role Greenway has held before when the Vikings have broken in a new middle linebacker and it’s a role he embraces.
“I do enjoy it,” Greenway said. “I enjoy it a lot actually. Having the ability to understand what you need to do and the communication that goes into it. I’ve had the (sideline) helmet before and have been fine.”
Greenway added that he expects to be wired for sound in his helmet Thursday against the Cardinals, giving the signal that Barr likely won’t be ready to go in Arizona.
Just as with last Sunday’s game against Seattle, he feels he has been chosen because of his experience with breaking down and diagnosing what formation and blocking scheme the opposing offense will employ. He thinks that is a lot to ask of Kendricks, at least for the short-term.
A year from now that will likely be different, but for Thursday’s game it makes sense to let the guy who has been there and done that longer than any member of the Vikings linebacker corps make those calls.
“It’s probably easier to have it in my helmet than it is to be in Eric’s,” Greenway said. “He’s a rookie and it would be just putting another thing on him. I kind of makes sense.”
Greenway’s lining up and directing of the defense will be even more critical than usual Thursday because the Vikings are living up to the “next man up” mantra to the extreme.
Not only is Barr going to likely miss the Cardinals game, Linval Joseph isn’t expected to play and there are serious doubts as to whether Harrison Smith will be able to play as well.
Injuries are part of football, but to get hit at all three levels of the defense at the same time – arguably taking away the best athlete from all three spots – is a huge challenge, but it’s something Greenway said can be minimized with good communication and everyone knowing their role and staying on the same page.
“I just think it’s about continuing to communicate as a group,” Greenway said. “We have to communicate clearly and understand what everyone is doing. We’ve just got to get lined up and play.”
Although it appears as though the Vikings defense is going to continue to be without three of its most dynamic stars and have all four of their veteran safeties banged up, Greenway believes the defense can weather the storm because the backups have been preparing for this moment and are going to have to play the game with the guys that are available.
Mike Zimmer’s defense is based on a scheme that has different responsibilities for different positions and the admonition that everyone be accountable for his job on every play.
The cast of characters may differ, but the scheme remains the same and, as Greenway serves as the director of the defense from the eyes and ears of the coaching staff, don’t expect to see a shift in philosophy just because the personnel has changed markedly.
“We’re just going to try to do what we do,” Greenway said. “We’re going to remain consistent with our scheme.”