Vikings position preview: Linebackers

July, 24, 2014
7/24/14
8:00
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group. We'll look at the linebackers this morning.

Returning players: Chad Greenway, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole, Larry Dean

Gone from last season: Erin Henderson, Desmond Bishop, Marvin Mitchell

New this season: Anthony Barr (first-round pick from UCLA), Brandon Watts (seventh-round pick from Georgia Tech), Jasper Brinkley (free agent from Arizona), Dom DeCicco (free agent from Tampa Bay), Mike Zimmer (free agent from Jacksonville)

Position coach: Adam Zimmer (first season)

Biggest issue: As the Vikings begin camp, they've almost got a blank slate at the position. Greenway figures to start, but will it be at middle linebacker or weak-side linebacker? Will Brinkley return to start in the middle? Will Cole be able to lock down a starting spot after playing well at the end of last season? And will Barr be ready for a featured role in the Vikings' defense after the team used the No. 9 pick in the draft on him? There's some young talent at the position, but the Vikings don't have much settled at linebacker, and they'll have to run through a number of permutations to figure out what will work. Hodges -- who struggled as a rookie and didn't seem to play with the edge the Vikings wanted to see -- could also get a chance to turn things around and showcase his quickness in Mike Zimmer's defense.

Player to watch: Barr is the obvious choice -- the Vikings seem to have big plans for him as a pass-rusher that can occasionally set up on the defensive line. He'll have to prove he can handle coverage responsibilities, especially in light of the fact the Vikings toyed with him in their nickel package during minicamp, and he'll have to adjust to offensive linemen that know how to counter his pass-rushing moves. But the Vikings were thrilled to get him, and if he's able to handle the learning curve as a rookie, he's got the potential to unlock a series of different looks for the Vikings defense.

Medical report: Greenway played with a broken wrist last season, but is healthy this season, and Mauti, who had three ACL operations in college, is now 20 months removed from his last surgery.

Help wanted: The Vikings seemed confident enough in their young linebackers not to pursue much help (outside of Brinkley) in free agency, and barring injury, they're likely to head into the season with the group they've got at the position.

Quotable: "When you go into a game with six linebackers, if something happens, they’ve got to be ready to go, so part of the deal with guys is we’re trying to give them a lot of different things to do," Mike Zimmer said. "I’ve always felt like the more you can do, the more valuable you are on game day."

Ben Goessling

ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter

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