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E.J. Henderson was a quality player for many years. He faced some injury problems down the stretch but was able to overcome it at first. He should have won comeback player of the year in 2010 for his amazing return to form.
However, in 2011 he appeared to have lost a step. He was a liability in pass defense and contributed to the team's horrendous numbers. It was sad to see him leave, but it was time to move on.
Having said that, I wish there was a more proven replacement. The players up for middle linebacker have very limited experience, with two of them being rookies.
That is why I said the spot is the third linebacker, rather than middle linebacker. There is always the chance that either Erin Henderson or Chad Greenway move to the middle, leaving an outside linebacker spot open.
Brinkley has the most starting experience in the Vikings defense and should be the early favorite to win it. He played well in his rookie season while filling in for the injured Henderson. 2010 was a year for him to fully learn the position behind one of the better starters in the NFL.
His injury caused a big setback for him in 2011, where he was expected to compete with Erin Henderson for starting outside backer duties. He was stout against the run and average against the pass when he previously played for the team.
Coming off of his hip injury and missing a lot of OTAs with a different injury could set him back in his hunt to start this season.
While he is primarily a lineman, he saw time as a linebacker last season. He is a great tackler and a physical phenom. He has tremendous talent against the pass. He can rush the quarterback better than any linebacker on the team.
His biggest weakness is in covering the pass, but he could use some work against the run when playing backer. He is more of a outside linebacker than a middle one, and if he wins the spot, I see Erin Henderson taking over for his brother.
He has limited starting experience in his five seasons in the NFL. He has primarily been a special-teams player, when he has played he struggled in coverage. He isn't as physically gifted as the other guys on this list, but he has more knowledge of the league. He should be able to play against the run, but not dominantly.
He will be given a chance to play due solely because of the team's struggles last season.
I don't know much about this guy outside of the fact that he is a good tackler and extremely hard hitter. Outside of that, what I have seen is that he needs some work to develop his pass coverage skills. He should be able to stop the run as well as everybody else on this list, but he is a big unknown.
CFL players are a big gamble, but without any guaranteed money, he was a worthwhile signing.
Cole was a strong collegiate player, capable of playing both outside and middle linebacker. He has the size, and most of his experience comes at the middle spot. He showed he is capable in both run and pass defense situations and was a solid tackler.
He has a chance to develop into a late-round steal for the team and is most likely their best option in defense of the pass.
Predicted winner: Brinkley if he is healthy, Cole if not
Brinkley has the most experience, and the team seems high on him. I'm not sold on his abilities, especially coming off of an injury, but if he is healthy by the start of the season, it will be his spot to lose.
Cole will take over if Brinkley can't because he has more cover skills than either Mitchell or Elimimian, and Griffen will focus mostly on the defensive line.