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Minnesota Vikings: What Everson Griffen's Move Back to DE Means for Vikings LBs

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Minnesota Vikings: What Everson Griffen's Move Back to DE Means for Vikings LBs
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Minnesota Vikings DE Everson Griffen

Well that didn't take very long.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier announced on Monday after practice that LB Everson Griffen will be moving back to his natural DE position.

On Friday against the San Francisco 49ers, Griffen worked almost exclusively at outside linebacker with the third-string unit.

He will go back to a similar role that he assumed in 2011, which was a situational pass-rusher for the Vikings.  

He played in only 265 snaps in 2011, but accumulated four sacks and 14 quarterback pressures in limited action.  

As a DE, Griffen will likely be the first off the bench in front of D'Aundre Reed, Nick Reed and a host of others this preseason, and will also be asked to contribute on special teams as in years prior.

"We saw enough of him at linebacker where we feel like this is going to be better for him," Frazier said. "We talked to him Sunday night when we got back, and he agrees that it's better for him to focus on that position, and Erin (Henderson) and Marvin Mitchell are really battling for that spot. They're doing a good job competing."

On Mondays practice Griffen take most of his reps at end before leaving camp with what Frazier said was "a knee that was bothering him." 

Hopefully the injury is not serious, but it could be something that holds Griffen out on Friday against the Bills as a precautionary measure.  The Vikings should know what they already have in Griffen as a DE, so him missing that game isn't crucial.

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What is crucial for Griffen is that he has yet to get regular snaps after his first two seasons and doesn't seem likely to earn a large increase unless there are injuries.  According to sports-contract website Spotrac, Griffen, 24, has a very low rookie contract ($675,000 for 2012, $710,000 for 2013) so the Vikings will not give up on the young player just yet.

In front of Griffen are to stalwarts, to say the least, in Jared Allen and Brian Robison.  Both Allen, 30, and Robison, 29, are set to become free agents following the 2013 season just like Griffen.  The performance of all three combined with the rebuilding project of the Vikings is worth watching over the next two seasons.

What I did find interesting from the earlier Frazier quote was his mention of Mitchell competing with Henderson at weak-side linebacker.

Griffen's departure back to the defensive-end position opens the door for more players at linebacker to stand out in hopes of earning a 53-man roster spot.

Here is a look at five linebackers that will benefit the most from Griffen's switch. 

 

Marvin Mitchell

Mitchell, 27, was signed to a one-year contract at the veteran minimum, and was thought to be a core special-teams player and provide depth at middle linebacker for the Vikings.  

Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Minnesota Vikings LB Marvin Mitchell

So far in camp he seems to be locked in as Erin Henderson's backup.  

Frazier had this to say about Mitchell's role: "I don't know if he's pushing (Henderson) for the starting job, but he's giving us some depth that we didn't have prior to signing him, as you know. But we'll see. We'll see how (Mitchell) performs in these preseason games. Erin still has to perform well. You don't want to say things are locked up where we are right now. We need competition."

While I can't see Mitchell unseating Henderson as a starter it is great to hear that he is making an impact.  

From what I saw on Friday, he did a great job of always being around the ball and making plays.  

Griffen was speculated to be the backup at weak-side linebacker which could have pushed Mitchell to getting more looks in a backup middle-linebacker role.  

The backup role now seems to be Mitchell's to lose.

 

Tyrone McKenzie

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
Minnesota Vikings LB Tyrone McKenzie

McKenzie, 26, was signed to a one-year contract with no signing bonus with the hope that he would compete at middle linebacker for the Vikings.  

McKenzie was the third-round pick (No. 97 overall) in the 2009 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, but injuries derailed his pro career so far.

On Friday, McKenzie operated as the backup to Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker, a position he has occupied almost the entire offseason.  

Like his second-string teammate Mitchell, McKenzie seemed to be around the ball against the 49ers. McKenzie tied for a team-high six tackles against the 49ers.  

Griffen's departure from the linebackers means that Mitchell can keep working on the weak side, allowing more reps for McKenzie in the middle. 

 

Larry Dean

Dean, 24, was an undrafted free agent signed in 2011 from Valdosta State.  In 2011, Dean was a special-teams standout as the No. 4 special-teams tackler (14) and was active for every game. Dean signed a three-year contract in 2011 for a cap-friendly amount (average of $465,000).

Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
Minnesota Vikings LB Audie Cole sacking 49ers QB Scott Tolzien

Dean is challenging to be the backup to Chad Greenway at strong-side linebacker in 2012.  

On Friday, Dean worked as the backup strong-side linebacker, but gave way to McKenzie and Mitchell on passing downs with the second-string linebackers.  

Dean finished the game against the 49ers with three tackles and played a lot on special teams, as expected.

While Dean was not in direct competition with Griffen, the move back to the line will help Dean to earn a roster spot again in 2012.  

 

Audie Cole

Cole, 23, was a Round 7 draft pick in 2012 and played both inside and outside in college.  

On Friday, Cole worked with the third-string as the middle linebacker and handled the on-field play-calling duties for the third-string defense.  

He earned praise from DC Alan Williams in his Monday presser.  Williams said that Cole has had no problem taking control of the huddle even with other veterans on the field with him.

Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
Minnesota Vikings LB Solomon Elimimian

Cole made the most of his limited action on Friday with a sack and a quarterback hit to go along with three tackles.

Griffen's shift back to the defensive line will certainly help Cole's chances of earning a roster spot as long as the rookie can keep making plays.

 

Solomon Elimimian

While Elimimian is best known as the CFL's hardest hitter, he was a start middle linebacker for the University of Hawaii before that.  Elimimian is the all-time tackle leader for the Rainbows with 434 tackles.

Elimimian, 24, spent the last two season on the CFL's BC Lions earning an all-star status and helping the team to a Grey Cup victory.  The Vikings signed the former CFL Rookie Of The Year to a two-year contract.

Elimimian is an undersized (6'0", 227 pounds) linebacker who might have had a very hard time making the final roster if Griffen had been stuck at linebacker.  

Against the 49ers, Elimimian had two tackles, one pass defended and a key red-zone interception.  I would expect a lot more reps for him against the Bills on Friday at both linebacker as well as special teams.

He has the most uphill battle of the five and will need to keep standing out to make the team, but his performance on Friday certainly helped. 

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