Where does Farwell fit in?

With the season-ending injury to E.J. Henderson, the Vikings' linebacker corps is shuffling the deck. Jasper Brinkley will be the base starter at middle linebacker, but Heath Farwell might see occasional defensive duty. The veteran special-teams ace explained the team's confidence in Brinkley and his own role.

For most of his rookie season, there hasn't been much attention paid by fans or the media to linebacker Jasper Brinkley. He's been a solid special teams contributor, but his role with the Vikings defense has been minimal. Playing behind E.J. Henderson has been similar to playing quarterback behind Brett Favre – about the only time you see action during the regular season is at "garbage time" of lopsided wins.

That changed 180 degrees Sunday night when Henderson, the starting middle linebacker, suffered a gruesome broken left femur in the second half of the Vikings loss to Arizona. Unlike last year, when a desperate Vikings team went linebacker shopping for unemployed veterans like Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris when Henderson went down with multiple dislocated toes, the Vikings have yet to make such a move this time around. It's Brinkley or bust.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle is linebacker Heath Farwell. During the offseason, Farwell tested the free-agent market to gauge what interest there might be from other teams in signing him with a chance to play on the defense as well as being a special teams ace. Eventually, he signed a multi-year deal to stay with the Vikings, but, at the time, he was given the promise that he would see more playing time with the defensive unit as well. Clearly, that didn't happen in 2008 when he was out with his own injury and, until Henderson's injury, there wasn't much of a need for his services on the defense in 2009. But, while many things have changed for the Vikings defense with Henderson lost for the season, Farwell said he doesn't expect to see a marked change in his role with the team.

"I don't see my role expanding all that much," Farwell said. "I'm sure that with Jasper being new to playing that he will probably need to come out a little more often because of the conditioning that's required. I may see some more time on the defense, but I know my role. I'm a leader on the special teams. That's my primary focus – helping the younger guys we have on our special teams get better and improve as the season goes along. Whatever is best for the team is what we're going to do."

Officially listed on the depth chart as the backup to Chad Greenway on the outside, most of Farwell's collegiate experience was playing outside linebacker, but he did have some work on the inside. While there may have to be some sporadic shuffling of the linebackers during the post-Henderson transition, Farwell said he supports the decision to go with Brinkley – who he said has gone above and beyond what was expected of him when he was drafted in the fifth round.

"It's tough losing our captain and it will be tough playing without him," Farwell said. "But Jasper is a heck of a player. I've said since training camp that this guy is going to be a starter in this league. Obviously, you didn't think it would be this soon and you hoped it wouldn't be this soon. But he's ready to go. He's as ready as anyone I've seen (as a rookie). He's got a lot of talent and is good football player."

While some players would be envious of a younger, less experienced player getting the first shot at replacing a star like Henderson, Farwell said he's earned a lot of respect for Brinkley, who has taken his preparation extremely seriously while waiting for his chance in the spotlight.

"He knows the scheme, he's in (the film room) studying and taking notes," Farwell said. "Since he's been here, he's been a student of the game and has taken a lot of interest in learning the position. He's working hard at it and he's got the tools – he's big, physical and fast for his size. That's the thing that has surprised me. He's very fast."

The roles of all the linebackers are likely to change somewhat with the loss of the team's defensive captain. Ben Leber, for example, will be wearing the defensive headset (the one with the green dot) and passing along defensive play calls as he did last year after Henderson went down. At times, Leber will move into the middle and Farwell may take his spot when the team employs a 4-3 defense in the event Brinkley needs a breather. But, for the most part, Farwell said he is going to continue concentrating on his role as the unquestioned leader of the special teams and, while ready to step in if called upon, will have Brinkley's back and be supportive as he takes his initial NFL baby steps as a starter.

"At this point, I think everyone is in agreement that what is best for the team is for Jasper to play middle linebacker and me focusing primarily on the special teams part of it," Farwell said. "I'm behind that decision 100 percent. If I'm needed on the defense, I'll be ready to go, but, for right now, I'm just standing behind Jasper with the rest of the team and we're all confident he'll do fine."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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