Mike Zimmer spoke Thursday at the annual Scouting Combine about a variety of topics, including where the linebacker position currently stands with veteran Chad Greenway being a wild card at outside linebacker and how free agency and the draft could impact the 2016 Minnesota Vikings.
Zimmer talked last year about the potential of moving middle linebacker Eric Kendricks to the outside, where he has looked natural in coverage and showing the speed to make plays. But Zimmer was hesitant to say whether he would flip Kendricks to the outside in the future because he liked what he did at middle linebacker as a rookie.
“That’s still a tough question,” Zimmer said. “I do think he’d be a good player at that position. I always have a little bit of a concern about moving a guy who played pretty well to another position just because it may not turn out the way you want. Sometimes it does and it’s great. It will all depend on who we end up drafting – if we draft a guy or if we go with a free agent – and how it all unfolds or if Chad comes back. It’s all up in the air.”
Much of the decision-making process on how the linebacker corps will shake out will depend on whether Greenway returns or not. While he admitted he doesn’t have all the answers at this point of the offseason, Zimmer indicated that Greenway wants to come back for a final season and that the Vikings want him back as well.
“I think he will be back,” Zimmer said. “We’d like to have him back, but the thing is that you never know.”
The bigger question facing Zimmer and his coaching staff is whether Greenway, who would be entering his 11th season, still has the skill set to be a full-time player.
Last season, Greenway was the starter in the base defense, but was expected to be a part-time time player coming off the field in passing situations. But due to injuries along the linebacker spots, he was forced to be on the field much more than what had been anticipated when training camp opened and even when the regular season began.
Zimmer said he was impressed with Greenway’s leadership on and off the field, and when forced into full-time duty in his defense, he showed that there was still gas left in the tank.
“I think Chad was very valuable for us this year,” Zimmer said. “He was going to be basically a part-time starter, play a third of the game. But a couple guys got hurt and he ended up playing a lot more snaps. Chad is valuable in a lot of different ways and it’s not just on the field. I do think he can still play.”
Zimmer admitted that the Vikings are in the process of restocking the shelves at linebacker with younger players and that Greenway’s days as a full-time starter are likely over. However, that being said, he believes Greenway has a lot to offer the Vikings if he returns for his 11th season.
A lot can change between now and the opening of free agency and the draft. In the NFL there are no guarantees, but Zimmer feels there is a place on the 2016 roster for Greenway and is hopeful that things can work out on that front.
“You’re always trying to find younger and better,” Zimmer said. “That’s just part of the league. But I think Chad is valuable for our football team, whether that’s as a starter or a part-time starter.”