The Minnesota Vikings are beginning the process of developing their 2017 roster with this weekend’s rookie minicamp, but one position that remains in flux and has outside observers trying to read the clues the Vikings are laying out is how the linebacker depth chart is going to be configured.
What makes the potential layout of the linebacker corps more cryptic is that there are multiple designations being placed on three players – 2016 backups Emmanuel Lamur and Kentrell Brothers and rookie Ben Gedeon.
In the final roster from the 2016 regular season finale, the only designation given to linebackers was the simple “LB” for all of them. That listing included to two key linebackers that are no longer on the team – retired Chad Greenway and Audie Cole, who signed with Jacksonville in free agency.
On their final depth chart for the Bears game, Brothers was listed as the third middle linebacker, behind starter Eric Kendricks and Cole. Currently on the Vikings official website, Brothers is listed as an outside linebacker.
While most of the other linebackers on the roster – Anthony Barr, Kendricks, Edmond Robinson, Elijah Lee, Shaan Washington and Eric Wilson – are listed with the simple “LB” designation, Lamur is listed with the “OLB” designation and Gedeon is listed as “ILB” (inside linebacker).
Why the Vikings are making these more distinctive designations for three of their nine linebackers is unclear, especially at it pertains to Brothers, who was a middle linebacker all last season.
There has been plenty of speculation as to how the Vikings linebackers will be lined up with the retirement of Greenway and the opening of a starting spot for a weakside linebacker in the Vikings’ base 4-3 setup. Atop that speculation has been that Kendricks might move outside and Brothers would be in contention to fight for the starting middle linebacker spot.
Zimmer has deflected the questioning as to what the Vikings’ plan will be for 2017, alternately saying that, in his defense, linebackers are interchangeable and also stating that it would be difficult to move Kendricks out of the middle because he has led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons.
If there is something to be made out of the way the players have been identified by the Vikings on their own depth chart, the current smart money would have it that Barr starts at the strongside spot, Kendricks starts in the middle and Brothers, Lamur and Lee would be in competition for the weakside spot. Gedeon would then be in line to be the primary middle linebacker backup.
Plenty is going to happen between now and the start of the 2017 season. There likely will be some positional experimentation done – trying Kendricks on the outside and moving Brothers back inside or mixing and matching positions that would shift Kendricks around and alternately allow Gedeon to see the field in the middle (where it appears to be his only spot) and Brothers moving inside and out.
The only thing that seems certain is that the Vikings have the linebacker pieces in place to operate Zimmer’s defensive scheme the way he wants it done, but how those pieces fall into place and how playing time will be divvied up is still somewhat up in the air. We know Barr and Kendricks will be in the starting lineup if both are healthy and it’s pretty safe to say that Barr will be the strongside starter.
Other than that? It’s not a certainty that even the coaching staff knows the answers to those questions in early May. Even they are going to wait and see who steps up and who falls back in the open completion over the next three months.