Middle Linebacker Remains Unsettled

The Vikings like to have competition for starting spots at all positions, but the biggest unsolved starting spot is still middle linebacker, where a trio of players all seem to have a shot to become the man in the middle.

The Vikings likely will head into training camp with the starting spot at middle linebacker wide open.

That became clear as new defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin continued to give multiple players time at the position during the team's recent three-day minicamp. E.J. Henderson, Napoleon Harris and Dontarrious Thomas all played with the first unit.

The Vikings appear set with free-agent acquisition Ben Leber at strong-side linebacker and first-round pick Chad Greenway will get every chance to win the starting job on the weak side.

That means Henderson, who was moved from the middle to the weak-side last season, could find himself back in a familiar position as the Vikings make the transition to the Cover-2 scheme under Tomlin.

Tomlin pointed out that Harris was the starting middle linebacker for Oakland in the Super Bowl when the Buccaneers beat the Raiders in 2002. But Harris was a major disappointment last season after being acquired in the Randy Moss trade. The starting strongside linebacker when the season opened, Harris was benched by former coach Mike Tice in favor of Keith Newman after four games.

Thomas, meanwhile, saw the majority of his action last season on passing downs after starting five games as a rookie in 2004.

"We have some strong candidates," Tomlin said. "We have some guys that are working. A lot of those things ultimately won't be determined until we play football in pads. It's a collision game, and we're running around in shorts. We take with a grain of salt what we see right now. That's a violent position and that thing will be determined with the pads on."

The most logical choice for the job, assuming the Vikings don't look outside the organization, would be Henderson. He started a total of 16 games, including two in the playoffs, at that spot in 2004. The biggest knock against Henderson was the fact he was frequently out of position and struggled with the responsibilities required of a middle linebacker.

But with the experience he gained last season watching veteran Sam Cowart in the middle, Henderson might be ready for the challenge of returning to the spot.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If I'm looking for comfort, I need to find a new line of work. It's a continual process. I'm not going to lose sleep on the fact that that's not sorted out right now. The reality is if we're trying to be the best that we can be, we'll have an open mind regarding a lot of positions this time of year." — Defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin on his feelings about not knowing who will play middle linebacker next season.

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    The Vikings signed director of college scouting Scott Studwell to a three-year contract extension but it's uncertain if the former Vikings linebacker will take on a larger role in the organization. The team also needs to make decisions about its scouting staff because their contracts expire at the end of this month.

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