When the Minnesota Vikings signed Desmond Bishop—the former Green Bay Packers standout linebacker—it became apparent that the team was inking a unique, talented player to a low-risk deal that in the grand scheme of things could turn out to be one of the best moves made this offseason.
To fully understand why Bishop was a huge signing for the Vikings, we first have to go back and break down some of the strengths and weaknesses of his game. From there we evaluate his character and the goals he sets for himself as a player.
Finally, finding an effective role in the always-improving Minnesota defense will show everyone why all in all adding Desmond Bishop to the Vikings roster will pay off huge this season.
Before tearing his hamstring last preseason, Bishop served as one of the anchors of Dom Capers' fireball-like Green Bay defense.
Thriving as a 3-4 inside linebacker in 2010 and 2011—the two seasons where he saw a significant amount of playing time—Bishop racked up 166 solo tackles and 54 assists on tackles to go along with eight sacks and four forced fumbles. A player who frequently found his way to the football, it's clear that Bishop was at his best when he was making tackles and attacking the run.
If you missed out on watching him play during his time in Green Bay, Bishop is one of those rare linebackers who possesses that sinister combination of pure football instincts, fluid movement and natural ability that helps him consistently stop the run and make plays whenever he's out there on the field.
Producing a combined 166 solo tackles over his last two seasons in Green Bay, Bishop—like many other great linebackers playing in this league—proved that the old adage "playing smart is better than playing fast" is still relevant today.
For the Vikings, having Bishop means having a player on your roster who is blessed with elite instincts and an above-average football mind, and he provides this improving defense with a shot in the arm—for lack of a better term—that will not only help the team slow down opposing defenses right away, but will aid this defense with another sure tackler.
When you talk his coverage skills, that's where Bishop's game seems to struggle the most. Ranked 37th in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in order for him to become an effective every-down player, Bishop will have to continue to improve on this aspect of his game.
But even with his coverage flaws, for a linebacking corps that has been shelled with criticisms over the past couple of months, this low-risk, high-reward contract Bishop signed is a major step in the right direction for this franchise.
A high-character player who is goal-oriented—Bishop carries a notebook around with him that highlights his goals— before even signing with the team Bishop told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he wants to be "2013 Defensive MVP."
And if you're taking notes at home, folks, this is exactly the type of player you want suiting up for your team on a weekly basis.
But coming off a catastrophic injury that almost extinguished his rising star, Vikings fans have to understand that Bishop will be facing a challenge as he gets ready for the 2013 NFL season.
Assuming he stays healthy, where would the best fit be for Bishop in this Vikings defense?
Playing a 3-4 inside linebacker, you would figure Bishop's best fit in the Vikings scheme would be at the middle-linebacker position. And while Erin Henderson seems to be focused on starting at MLB, according to Tom Pelissero (formerly of ESPN 1500) of USA Today, Bishop will compete at that position as well as weak-side linebacker.
I'm told Desmond Bishop will compete at both middle and weak side linebacker. Should be interesting. #Vikings— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 24, 2013
While there's no doubt that in time Bishop could end up becoming a quality MLB for this team, his lack of coverage skills could hurt his chances of starting right away.
That's why right now playing the weak-side linebacker position is where the Desmond Bishop signing will pay off huge for the Vikings this season.
A fearless run-stopper, lining up at the weak-side position will help him not only adjust to the scheme quicker because the position benefits his strengths (shedding blocks and making tackles), but it will also allow him to be able to rotate in and play alongside Gerald Hodges as he tries to bounce back from injury.
In a perfect world the Vikings could try and adjust their scheme to use Bishop in more of a hybrid role, a role where he could get a few looks coming off the edge, while racking up tackles at the weak-side linebacker position.
When the Vikings signed Bishop, they not only added a veteran player who has been tremendously productive when healthy, but they acquired a smart football player who if nothing else will provide them with much needed depth across the board at the linebacker position.
A versatile, driven athlete, if things work out and he stays healthy, Bishop could become another high-caliber player on this Vikings defense. Regardless of how he's used, if one thing's clear, it's that watching Desmond Bishop line up against his former team twice a year will be worth every penny.
*All stats via Pro-Football Reference, unless noted otherwise.