With Bishop out, Vikings regroup at LB


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Depending on your viewpoint, Desmond Bishop either developed a good enough feel for the Minnesota Vikings' scheme to unseat Marvin Mitchell as the starting weak-side linebacker last week, or the Vikings finally realized Bishop was their best option at the position.

Bishop sounded like he was taking the latter stance on Friday afternoon when he recounted his short-lived role as the Vikings' starter. "I think I hit (my comfort level) a little bit ago," he said. "But to finally get the nod to start was a big stepping stone to getting back to where I really wanted to be. It’s unfortunate the injury happened at the worst time, but, like I said, it’s out of my control."

The linebacker will visit Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday morning to have reconstructive knee surgery, and now that Bishop is out for the season, the Vikings have to regroup at a position they never really seemed to have settled. The spot came open when the Vikings moved Erin Henderson to the middle linebacker position, and while Mitchell will likely see the majority of the snaps there on Monday night against the New York Giants, the Vikings might see if rookie Gerald Hodges is able to push for playing time in the near future.

"When you have a young guy and he sees the guys stacked up on the depth chart, he says, 'There’s no end in sight,'" defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "But now that we have one injury and he gets bumped up to the next guy, he really sees, 'I’m an injury away.' We’ve been seeing a different guy in practice. He’s been moving around with a sense of urgency that we’d liked to have seen before, but he’s coming along well."

I've been a tad surprised that Hodges hasn't factored into the Vikings' plans a little more to this point; Bishop and Mitchell seemed likely to get the first shot at the weak-side linebacker job, but Hodges was the first linebacker the Vikings drafted in April, and neither of the players ahead of Hodges on the depth chart was entrenched in his role. At the very least, as much as the Vikings liked Hodges' range and quickness coming out of the draft, it seemed likely he could have carved out a bigger role on special teams before now. Seventh-round pick Michael Mauti, his former teammate at Penn State, has been active for three games, while Hodges has been active for just one.

But if Hodges catches the Vikings' eye, could we see him at outside linebacker sometime this season? If the team's playoff chances get even more minuscule, it would make sense to see if Hodges can lock down the spot for the future. The Vikings' linebacking group could use a shot of energy, which is what it seemed like Bishop could have provided, and Hodges might be able to deliver that. It's also worth asking if Mauti will get a look at the middle linebacker spot at some point; he could have been a second- or third-round pick if not for concerns about his three knee surgeries, and the Vikings kept him around because they think he has the skills of a prototypical middle linebacker. They've had some positive things to say about Henderson in the middle so far, but Mauti's emergence might let them put Henderson back on the outside down the road.

Right now, the Vikings have plenty to sort out at linebacker. Bishop might have lent some clarity to the position, but now that he's hurt, things are unsettled again.