When the 2011 season ended, no one expected that there would be confusion about who would be starting at linebacker. But because of Everson Griffen's transition from defensive end to LB, that's exactly what has happened.
Heading into this offseason, it seemed like just about everybody expected Jasper Brinkley to step in as the starter after coming off a hip injury that kept him out for the entire 2011 season. Though Brinkley claims he's healthy now, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman has expressed his concern about the linebacker's durability and the depth of the position.
According to 1500espn.com's Tom Pelissero, Griffen already has his weight down to 263 pounds and has been practicing with receivers like Minnesota native Larry Fitzgerald to test his coverage as he makes the transition to LB.
Griffen has shown enough potential to prove that he deserves to be on the field, so his transition to linebacker gives the Vikings some unexpected depth. This is probably the main reason why they chose not to seriously address the position in the draft.
Spielman basically said that he doesn't see Brinkley as the solution at MLB. Maybe that's just me hearing what I want to hear, but the fact that no one is coming out in defense of Brinkley says that there's a little bit of truth to that assumption.
E.J. Henderson, who has been the long-term starter at MLB for the Vikings, is still available as a free agent and insists that he's healthy and ready to go for a team that will give him an opportunity. But if the Vikings haven't already reached out to Henderson about a new short-term contract, it would be hard to see one coming.
Instead, I expect the Vikings to use Griffen on the weak side and move Erin Henderson to MLB to strengthen the starting three. Henderson clearly has the team's trust and would be better suited to play the Mike, which is the most important position in the Vikings' system.
Who do you want starting at MLB for the Vikings in 2012?
Griffen will allow them to experiment with different looks at linebacker, but the bottom line is that he will be on the field more often than not. If he's changing positions full time, it's not going to be so that he can play third-wheel again when he has the talent to be a starter on many rosters in the NFL.
With Greenway being a consistent leader on the strong side, a transition to MLB for Erin Henderson could potentially fill a long-term need for the Vikings. If Everson Griffen shows the ability to be a starter on the weak side, the Vikings would have three young, qualified linebackers to fill out the core of the defense.
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