NFC North: Desmond Bishop

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The way Mike McCarthy talked on Friday, it was almost as if the Green Bay Packers coach wants Jamari Lattimore to never relinquish the starting spot he will occupy Sunday against the New York Jets in relief of the injured Brad Jones.

It would not be the first time a Packers linebacker won a job that way.

Desmond Bishop was an injury replacement for Nick Barnett early in the 2010 season and did not give up the job until he was injured in the 2012 preseason. And midway through the 2012 season, Jones took over that spot after an injury to D.J. Smith.

Could it be Lattimore's turn?

Jones has a quadriceps injury that may or may not have contributed to his poor play in the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks and has been ruled out for Sunday's home opener.

"I would think anytime you get a chance to go and perform, if you perform at a high level, you don't want to give that spot back," McCarthy said Friday. "I think that's the part of injury. You look at the history of the National Football League, some of the greatest careers were started because of an injury in front of that particular player. This is a big opportunity."

But it's not Lattimore's first shot.

He started four games last season -- three in October plus the regular-season finale -- while Jones had hamstring and ankle injuries. Lattimore played well early in the season, including a career-high 14 tackles (with a sack) against the Browns on Oct. 20, but was not as effective in Week 17 against the Bears.

What no one outside the Packers knew until Friday was that Lattimore was dealing with an illness the entire time. Although the fourth-year pro did not disclose all the details, he said Friday that it was stomach-related and also had to do with allergies. He said he was on medication all of last season.

"I don't like to talk because it was bad for me," said Lattimore, who has no lingering problems from the illness. "So I don't really like to bring it back up."

The illness, which he said he still doesn't know exactly what it was, never kept him out of a game. The only game he missed was because of a quad injury. Other than the four starts, most of his action came on special teams, where he was voted as a team captain for the playoffs.

"I had no choice," he said. “It's my job. I've got to go and play. But I didn't feel good. But you just have to suck it up."

In the offseason, he was tendered as a restricted free agent at the lowest rate, $1.431 million, with no promises that another shot at the starting job would come with it. But here he is, a week into the regular season with that shot again, even if he's not quite looking at it that way.

"It's not a break," said Lattimore, who came into the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. "Every play is important to me because when I'm on the field I get to make a play. For me, yes, it's an opportunity, but it's just doing your job. What they brought you in here for, for you to do your job, for you to play that position. It's all up to the player to be accountable. It's not necessarily a big stage or first time. It's doing your job."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Perhaps you've heard this before about the Green Bay Packers' defense: Everything will be fine as long as they're healthy.

The problem is – or has been – that they have not stayed healthy.

Last year, playmakers like Clay Matthews and Casey Hayward missed significant time because of injuries.

[+] EnlargeJamari Lattimore
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe ability to fill various roles will likely earn LB Jamari Lattimore additional playing time in 2014.
The year before, it was Desmond Bishop, Nick Perry and Charles Woodson.

In the Super Bowl season of 2010, it was Nick Barnett and Morgan Burnett, among others.

Coach Mike McCarthy has apparently grown tired of watching his defense struggle when players go down. Simply plugging in replacement players and asking them to do the same jobs has not always worked.

To combat that, he and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have agreed on some changes.

At the root of those changes isn't necessarily Capers' scheme or whether it will continue to be his traditional 3-4 alignment in his base package, or a regular nickel or dime in sub packages. But rather, it is a plan to develop players who can play multiple positions in different defensive looks in order to better combat issues that could arise during the season.

The buzzwords appear to be these: More personnel, less scheme.

To be sure, there will be changes in scheme – some of which McCarthy does not want to discuss before he unveils it in the regular season. Some of them might even be a drastic departure from what Capers has done since he arrived in Green Bay in 2009 and throughout his career.

"We've learned some hard lessons here of late, the last couple years of maybe playing some players that probably weren't quite ready and because of a scheme [that] we were playing," McCarthy said after the Packers' first open OTA practice on Thursday.

The addition of veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers by way of free agency provides a window to the changes. Peppers, who has been a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 scheme for most of his career, will play multiple positions for the Packers. During Thursday's OTA, he lined up almost exclusively as an outside linebacker in a two-point stance, but don't be surprised if he moves inside and rushes from a three-point stance as well. The same could be said for Perry and Mike Neal.

Likewise, there could be additional roles for the inside linebackers. While Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk do not appear to be in danger of losing their spots, Jamari Lattimore could see the field more, too. He was featured prominently during Thursday's practice in a variety of roles.

All of that could free up the cornerstone of the defense, Matthews, to move around more, too.

"It just seems like a lot of the linebackers have taken on roles that require them not only to be the traditional 3-4 linebacker or 4-3 [linebacker] but to do both," Matthews said. "Whether that's one minute rushing against a tackle or playing out on the slot receiver. Really, I think it just provides a lot of versatility for the guys we have here.

"I think rather than making players fit into certain schemes, we're making those schemes fit around players now. I think it's great for the personnel that we have and what we’re trying to accomplish moving forward."

It's an effort to reverse a trend that has seen the Packers finish in the bottom third of the defensive rankings in two of the past three seasons and struggle in a pair of playoff losses to the San Francisco 49ers to end the past two seasons.

"I think we have to change something," Hawk said. "Not change, but we have to evolve and hone in on who knows what our plan is going in once the season comes, but we need to find a way to play better. We need to find a way to get off the field. I don't think you have to make any crazy, drastic changes. I don't think that's what we're going to do. But you have to find a way to evaluate what we did wrong and find a way to get better at that."

Capers did something similar earlier in his career. When he took over as the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator in 1999, he inherited a roster filled with players who better fit the 4-3 scheme they had run previously.

So instead of trying to force feed players a defense that did not suit their skills, he adjusted.

That season, the Jaguars gave up the fewest points in the NFL and the fourth-fewest yards.

"I hope it works as well as it did that year," Capers said. "We've done that, really, since we've been here. The first year we came in, there's a reason why Charles Woodson was the Defensive Player of the Year. He's a good player, and you do a lot of good things to feature your best players."
MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Minnesota Vikings aren't able to land a quarterback with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft in May, one popular alternative is for them to take a linebacker -- possibly Buffalo's Khalil Mack or Alabama's C.J. Mosley -- who could help shore up the middle of their defense.

They might, however, have another option worth considering before then. The Cleveland Browns released linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Wednesday, parting ways with the leader of their defense instead of paying him $4.1 million in bonuses on March 15.

Jackson is 30 years old, and reportedly already had interest from seven teams after the Browns cut him, so the Vikings would have to decide how much they'd want to pay for a linebacker entering his eighth season. They unsuccessfully tried a similar tack with former Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop last year, though injuries were a major risk factor with Bishop while Jackson has been durable for most of his career. But Jackson, like Bishop, is well-respected around the league and might be worth a look from the Vikings, especially considering how much their new coaching staff already seem to know about him.

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner were on the Browns' staff with Jackson last season, and though they wouldn't have coached him directly, they could vouch for his character and leadership abilities. Similarly, coach Mike Zimmer and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer wouldn't have game-planned against Jackson while they were in Cincinnati, but they'd at least have had two chances to watch him each season.

Jackson has been a solid tackler throughout his career, though he's historically not been the kind of linebacker you look to for a huge number of impact plays. The Vikings already have a linebacker like that in Chad Greenway, who turned 31 in January, and there's an argument to be made for younger, cheaper middle linebacker options like Audie Cole and Michael Mauti. But the Vikings defense suffered a leadership void when the team released Antoine Winfield last March, and Jackson could help provide some direction for a defense that figures to change dramatically under Zimmer this season. That alone might be enough for the Vikings to take a look at him.
Every day we'll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he'll be back with the club in 2014.

Free agent to be: Marvin Mitchell

Position: Linebacker

Age: 29

Years in the league: 7

What he made last season: $605,000 (cap number); $765,000 (cash value)

What he did last season: Mitchell started the season as the Vikings' weak-side linebacker, holding the spot until Desmond Bishop got comfortable enough with the Vikings' defense to overtake him in Week 5. When Bishop tore his ACL, Mitchell resumed his role as the starting linebacker, but with the Vikings playing so much nickel defense, Mitchell was rarely on the field enough to make a major impact. He never played more than 42 snaps in a game, and was never on the field for more than 13 pass plays in a game, according to Pro Football Focus. He had solid games against Washington and Cincinnati, but played sparingly most of the season.

His potential market value: He has been useful on special teams in recent years, and played a bit of middle linebacker in 2012, in addition to his work on the outside this year. Mitchell could have value to a team as a reserve, but considering he'll be 30 in October, he probably isn't going to find work as much more than a backup.

Will he still fit the Vikings? It probably doesn't hurt that Mitchell had one his better games against the Bengals last season (though new coach Mike Zimmer would have spent more time paying attention to the Vikings' offense than their defense while he was the Bengals' defensive coordinator). But the Vikings have enough young linebackers that it seems likely they'd look in another direction for one of their reserve spots, unless they decided they needed to bring Mitchell back for his special teams play.

What happens: Mitchell finds a reserve job with another team as the Vikings look to replace him with Gerald Hodges or a possible draft pick.
Every day we'll take a look at one of the Minnesota Vikings heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he'll be back with the club in 2014.

Free agent to be: Desmond Bishop

Position: Linebacker

Age: 29

Years in the league: 7

What he made last season: $850,000 (cap number); $850,000 (cash value)

What he did last season: Bishop picked the Vikings over several other teams when the Packers cut him in June, and he had wrested the starting weak-side linebacker job away from Marvin Mitchell by October, after showing the Vikings he was recovered from a torn hamstring. But as soon as Bishop got the starting job, he tore his left ACL on Oct. 13 against the Panthers, missing the rest of the season after having surgery.

His potential market value: It's tough to see much of a market for Bishop, who's had more season-ending surgeries (two) than he's had NFL starts (one) in the last two seasons. He turns 30 just before training camps open, and he'll have to prove he's recovered from knee surgery in time to try to make a roster. A team will likely sign him and give him a fighting chance to make a roster or at least start the season on the PUP list; Bishop is a well-respected, hard-hitting linebacker who started for a Super Bowl championship team in Green Bay, and he can be a solid starter when he's healthy. But his health is too much of a risk to create much of a market for him.

Will he still fit the Vikings? New coach Mike Zimmer has talked about how much he likes players with something to prove, and Bishop would certainly fit into that camp. Bishop could also give the Vikings a dynamic linebacker on a bargain contract, but all that assumes he's able to come back from ACL surgery in nine months. Bishop won't carry much risk for a team, but the only way he'd fit the Vikings is the only way he'd fit anywhere else: by proving he's healthy enough to come back.

What happens: The Vikings decide to move on with younger linebackers, and Bishop gets a shot with another team to recover from his surgery and try to prolong his career.

Countdown to combine: Vikings LBs

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're back at it with our Countdown to combine series, looking at four positions where the Vikings need help heading into the 2014 draft. It all leads up to our coverage of the NFL scouting combine from Indianapolis.

Position of need: Linebacker

In many ways, this has been a position that's needed upgrading for years. Chad Greenway made the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012, but the Vikings' production at middle linebacker has suffered since E.J. Henderson retired, and it became obvious last year they needed a dynamic, playmaking linebacker, as well as a permanent solution in the middle of their defense. It's possible both of those needs could be met in the same player.

Three players the Vikings might be targeting:

Khalil Mack, Buffalo: The 6-foot-3 linebacker has been linked to the Vikings in a number of mock drafts and with good reason; he'd be the kind of athletic linebacker who'd make offenses take notice. As dependable as Greenway has been, the Vikings haven't had a true thumper in their linebacking group for some time. Mack would likely start at weakside linebacker, assuming the Vikings liked what they saw of Audie Cole enough to give him another try in the middle. If Mack played there, he might also give the Vikings some of what they thought they'd get with Desmond Bishop in that spot last year -- a physical linebacker who can rush the passer.

C.J. Mosley, Alabama: If the Vikings were looking for a middle linebacker, Mosley might be their best option. He's particularly strong in pass coverage -- where Erin Henderson flailed at times last year -- and he's got the size to help in the run game, as well. Mosley sustained a nasty knee injury in the 2012 BCS National Championship, and dislocated his elbow last year, but if he shows himself healthy enough to merit first-round consideration, he could get a strong look from the Vikings at No. 8. General manager Rick Spielman has also talked about the possibility of trading back for more picks, and if the Vikings did that, they might still be able to get Mosley at, say, No. 10 or 12.

Anthony Barr, UCLA: He could be gone by the time the Vikings pick at No. 8, particularly if there's a team that sees him being able to bulk up enough to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but he'd be another strong option at outside linebacker. Barr is 6-4 and nearly 250 pounds, so he'd certainly have the size to be an imposing outside linebacker. His best fit could be with a team looking for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but Barr's pass-rushing skills could make him an attractive fit in the Vikings' scheme, as well.

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The most interesting thing Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said on Wednesday afternoon, when talking about his coaching staff's decision to move Erin Henderson back to outside linebacker and keep Audie Cole in the middle for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, I thought, was this:

"He was moved to the 'Mike' linebacker position not necessarily because that's what we wanted to do, but that was the plight that we were in," Frazier said. "He didn't come in a year ago as our middle linebacker. There were some things that happened over the offseason that resulted in him being our middle linebacker. He's a very good outside backer and expect him to play well on Sunday."

[+] EnlargeErin Henderson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsErin Henderson will try to give the Vikings a reason to cheer from his new outside linebacker position.
You'll recall the Vikings had big plans in the offseason to solve their future at the position; Frazier talked at the draft about how they wanted "to potentially draft someone" to handle the spot, and though he left the door open for Henderson to play there. Both Frazier and linebackers coach Mike Singletary indicated in April the Vikings planned to find a young middle linebacker.

The option of taking one high in the draft more or less disappeared when the Vikings traded four picks to the New England Patriots to move back into the first round to take receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The week after the draft, Henderson said at an offseason workout that coaches had told him to prepare to play middle linebacker, and he essentially slid into the spot almost by default during the offseason, even though Frazier wouldn't commit to Henderson being there The closest he came was at mini-camp, when he indicated either Cole or Michael Mauti would have to do something to take the spot away from Henderson. But with the Vikings envisioning Desmond Bishop as an outside linebacker and concerns persisting about their two young options in the middle, Henderson got the job -- and the chance he coveted to follow in his brother E.J.'s footsteps.

Henderson had played respectably in the middle, but still seemed to struggle in pass coverage at times. Moreover, his departure from the weakside linebacker spot left a hole the Vikings had never really filled; Bishop tore his ACL in October, and Marvin Mitchell did little to distinguish himself after getting the starting spot back following Bishop's injury.

Now in Cole, they have a young player who intrigues them enough to put Henderson back outside. It will be interesting to see how the move plays out in the long run -- Henderson admitted he struggled last season when he would get too aggressive and abandon his gap responsibilities on the weak side, and while Cole has played well, he's also benefited from being a lightly-scouted player. Moreover, Henderson seemed to bristle at the idea of not playing middle linebacker in the offseason, enough that it beared asking Frazier how Henderson took the news on Wednesday.

"We talked about some things and explained to him why. And he accepted that. He's a pro," Frazier said. "He's going to be on the field. That gives him an opportunity to make some plays for us. He's played the position in the past. He handled it as well as can be expected."

Henderson ran the risk of this happening when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving last month, and at least for now, Cole has seized the spot. Henderson talked on Wednesday about being in a better frame of mind after the arrest -- and a personal issue that kept him away from the team for three days after it -- and added he sent Cole a congratulatory text when coaches gave him the news. He seemed acutely aware of outside criticism, particularly with what came across his Twitter account, and he's tried to put himself in a better frame of mind to handle it.

"I have a lot of things to be happy about and thankful for, aside from all the naysayers and haters everybody else who's had different things to say about me throughout the year," he said. "Sometimes I let it get to me and get down too much. I've come to grips with it and come to terms with it and I'm able to look at myself and know the man that I am and accept it."

Whether that leads to him regaining the middle linebacker spot remains to be seen. But Wednesday was a reminder that Henderson's grip on the job was only going to be so firm when the Vikings began the year with other things in mind for him.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Safety Jamarca Sanford and defensive tackle Fred Evans are questionable for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, when the team's battered defense will try to stop one of the league's top offenses.

Sanford, who was limited in practice Friday because of an ankle injury, showed up on the team's injury report for the first time this week, as did Evans, who coach Leslie Frazier said "tweaked his knee" Thursday. Both are questionable for Sunday's game; Frazier didn't address Sanford's injury but said Evans should be fine.

If either player is limited Sunday, though, the Vikings could have an even tougher task against the Packers. Green Bay has the league's sixth-best rushing attack, and both players would be counted on to slow down powerful rookie running back Eddie Lacy. The Vikings are already without safety Harrison Smith, who is on injured reserve because of turf toe, and linebacker Desmond Bishop, who had season-ending knee surgery, so they're hoping they won't have to weather more losses to their defense.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Frazier said he was trying to decide if kicker Blair Walsh, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury to his non-kicking leg, will handle kickoff duty Sunday night. Punter Jeff Locke has been kicking off for the last two weeks, and Walsh was short on a 53-yard field-goal attempt on Monday night (the first time in his career he has missed from more than 50 yards).
  • On offense, the Vikings will be without tight end Rhett Ellison, who was part of the three-tight-end set the team used to open Monday's game against the New York Giants, and is one of the team's key run-blockers. Ellison has played fewer snaps than he did last year, but Frazier said his absence does limit some of the Vikings' flexibility with personnel.
  • Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), an important blocker on the Vikings' kickoff unit, will miss Sunday's game after sitting out of practice all week.
  • Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hip) is out for his second straight game, though it's unlikely Smith would have been active were he healthy.
  • Quarterback Josh Freeman (concussion) was officially ruled out for Sunday's game. Christian Ponder will start at quarterback, with Matt Cassel backing him up.

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

October, 13, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Mall of America Field.

What it means: The Vikings are now 1-4, and after a tumultuous week that included a quarterback change and a tragic turn of events for Adrian Peterson, the team looked as lost and as listless as it has all season. Injuries didn't help -- the Vikings lost Desmond Bishop, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith to knee, ankle and foot injuries, respectively -- but Matt Cassel squandered the goodwill he'd created two weeks ago in London and might have paved the way for Josh Freeman to take over at quarterback. That might be all Vikings fans have to look forward to at this point.

Stock watch: Falling -- Vikings' defense. It couldn't have been much lower, for a team that was 30th in the league heading into Sunday. But Minnesota let a 1-3 team control the game from the beginning, and spent nearly 36 minutes on the field. Josh Robinson got burned on a 79-yard touchdown just after halftime that looked like a coverage mix-up with Rhodes, and the Vikings briefly pulled him from their nickel package before Rhodes' injury forced them to put him back. The defensive line couldn't sustain pressure on Cam Newton, and as much intrigue as there is about the Vikings' QB situation at the moment, their defensive issues -- particularly the ones in the secondary -- might be a bigger concern.

Peterson quiet: The reigning NFL MVP was on the field just two days after his 2-year-old son died from injuries sustained in an alleged aggravated assault in South Dakota, but Peterson was held in check by the league's No. 3 defense. He had just 10 carries -- which tied for the fifth fewest of his career -- and ran for 62 yards, catching another three passes for 21 yards. Peterson had just four carries in the first quarter that went for minus-1 yards.

Cassel struggles: Two weeks after leading the Vikings to their only victory of the season, Cassel threw two interceptions in the loss to the Panthers, overshooting receivers on both picks, and couldn't lead the Vikings on a touchdown drive until he connected with Kyle Rudolph in the final two minutes. He completed 32 of 44 passes for 241 yards, but was forced to throw 25 times in the second half with the Vikings in a big hole. His turnovers were the major issue, and it will be interesting to see whether the Vikings try to get Freeman ready for next Monday's game against the New York Giants.

What's next: The Vikings (1-4) travel to New Jersey for a "Monday Night Football" matchup against the 0-6 New York Giants.

Desmond Bishop to start for Vikings

October, 13, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Linebacker Desmond Bishop, who was inactive for the Minnesota Vikings' first game and played just two snaps in the team's second game of the year, will start on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. He replaces Marvin Mitchell, who had begun the year ahead of Bishop at weakside linebacker.

It seemed clear when the Vikings signed Bishop that he would eventually work his way into the starting lineup, though his presence might still not be terribly noticeable. The Vikings have spent the majority of their time in the nickel defense this year (as evidenced by the fact Xavier Rhodes has played at least 59 percent of the team's defensive snaps in every game). Still, Bishop might give the Vikings a more physical presence at linebacker against Cam Newton and the Panthers.

We'll see throughout the day how much he plays and what he can add to the defense.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday with a knee injury, and coach Leslie Frazier wasn't terribly optimistic Ellison would play Sunday.

"I think you have to approach it (like he won't play)," Frazier said. "He's gotten better, but we'll see how much he can do, or if he can do anything tomorrow."

Ellison has been the Vikings' primary blocking back for Adrian Peterson with Jerome Felton suspended for the first three games of the season, and if he's unable to play, the job would fall to rookie Zach Line, who was primarily a ball carrier in college and hadn't been a blocking back until he signed with the Vikings.

"He's done a good job in these first two games," Frazier said. "His snaps will probably go up a little bit because of Rhett's absence, but we've got some other ways we can get some things done. We'll see what happens with Rhett."

Linebacker Desmond Bishop, who could get more snaps on defense against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, could also see some action on special teams if Ellison is out. Bishop has been working on the Vikings' kickoff team this week, and either he or rookie Michael Mauti could play there against Cleveland.

Here is the rest of the Vikings' injury report:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We talked a bit on Tuesday about the Vikings' linebackers in the context of how little they've used rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the first two weeks of the season, and how surprising that was, considering they could have used a high pick in last April's draft on a middle linebacker.

On Wednesday, coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged some issues with how the Vikings' linebackers have played so far, but with new starters at two of the three positions, it seems like Frazier knows he's going to need some patience.

Linebacker Chad Greenway said there were some communication issues on the Bears' final touchdown drive last Sunday, and in particular, it appeared middle linebacker Erin Henderson passed off Chicago tight end Martellus Bennett on the final drive, thinking Greenway was going to pick up the tight end, only to find him wide open in the flat for a 23-yard gain on first-and-20.

Frazier said Greenway "shouldn't feel like he has to do any more than he has in the past," and acknowledged that the Pro Bowl linebacker might have gotten caught trying to cover for other people on a few occasions.

"There's potential for that to happen with a new guy across from you," Frazier said. "That's something we've got to guard against. You've got to trust that [Henderson] is going to do his job, you do your job and we'll be fine as a group."

The Vikings have had some issues at linebacker in their first two games, but it's also important to point out there hasn't been as much change as one would think, given how little time they've spent in their base defense. Marvin Mitchell played only 15 defensive snaps in the Vikings' first game and 25 in their second game, and Desmond Bishop got on the field for two snaps on a goal-line series on Sunday. Essentially, it's been Henderson and Greenway on the field most of the time, as it was in the Vikings' nickel defense last year. In reality, the bigger issue might be the absence of Antoine Winfield, whose help in slot coverage and run defense made a tremendous difference in the middle of the field last year -- particularly when the Vikings were in nickel.

Frazier said the Vikings might try to find a little more time for Bishop on Sunday, and the Browns won't present the same kind of threat in the passing game that the Vikings saw from the Lions and Bears. This weekend might give them a chance to get into their base defense, and see what they have when their linebackers aren't put into passing situations quite as much. But in general, the Vikings still have some things to smooth out with their linebacking group.

UPDATE: Greenway talked about some of the issues after practice, and while he said he missed three open-field tackles on Sunday -- "When they're in space and you're one-on-one with guys, it's a tackle you've got to make," he said -- he added the knee surgery he had in June isn't an issue, and said no one can make a definitive statement about how well the linebackers are playing if they're not privy to the Vikings' game plan.

"A lot of times, it's easy to pick apart what's out in the open or what everybody can see," Greenway said. "But it's the things that happen that people don't understand that can't be graded or can't be said, 'Hey, he's doing good or doing bad,' because the reality is, you guys don't have really any idea, what's being taught or what's being coached in that room. Without getting into the details of it, I'm just going to answer questions like this, and you guys are going to wonder what the real answer is. You're not going to get it."

Greenway wasn't interested in shedding much more light on what he did wrong on Sunday, though.

"I don't need to do that, because I'm not being asked those questions," he said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The call for rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to become a bigger part of the Vikings' offense, it seems, is getting louder.

When he was asked why the first-round pick only got five snaps in the Vikings' first game against the Detroit Lions, coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said the team had more in its playbook for Patterson than it got to use on a day where the Vikings ran just 39 plays in the first 3 1/2 quarters. Then Patterson ran the game's opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown against the Bears on Sunday -- and got just six snaps.

[+] EnlargeCordarrelle Patterson
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsVikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson has shown glimpses of his potential, including a kickoff return for a TD against the Bears.
Frazier didn't mince words when asked about it on Monday.

"We’re going to get that rectified," Frazier said. "He definitely deserves to be on the field more. He’s shown that in the few snaps he’s gotten in the first two ball games. Hopefully, everything being equal, that should not be a part of the conversation next week. We want to get him on the field. He’s one of our explosive players, for sure. We see what he does when he gets the ball in his hands so we have to get him on the field."

It's not often Frazier is that frank in his calls for a certain player to see a bigger role in the game plan, and given the fact Frazier said it after answering a series of questions about how often he's willing to interject with his coordinators, it stands to reason that Patterson won't be so hard to find on the field going forward. It is interesting, though, that the Vikings have been so slow to use Patterson, given what they gave up to get him.

On draft night in April, general manager Rick Spielman was talking to reporters about the Vikings' other two first-round picks -- defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- when he got word that the New England Patriots were open to dealing the 29th overall pick to the Vikings for a second- , third- , fourth- and seventh-round pick. Spielman sprinted back to the Vikings' draft room, completed the deal and minutes later, Patterson was headed to Minnesota.

In making that trade, the Vikings effectively forfeited their chance to use one of their top picks on a middle linebacker after both Frazier and linebackers coach Mike Singletary said the team planned to go after one. Spielman said after the draft that Patterson was the only player the Vikings liked enough to move back into the first round and take, and in finalizing the Patterson pick, the Vikings assured themselves they wouldn't get Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree (who went 30th overall to the Rams), Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (38th overall to the Chargers), LSU's Kevin Minter (45th to the Cardinals), Florida's Jonathan Bostic (50th to the Bears) or Kansas State's Arthur Brown (56th to the Ravens). Only Brown would have been available with the Vikings' second-round pick, but with two fourth-rounders, the team would have had some collateral to move up if it wanted a linebacker.

As it is, the Vikings have looked like they might need a little help at the position. Erin Henderson moved from weakside linebacker to the middle and has struggled his first two weeks (Pro Football Focus currently ranks Henderson 47th among the 50 inside linebackers who have played 25 percent of their team's snaps). The two Penn State linebackers the Vikings did draft -- fourth-rounder Gerald Hodges and seventh-rounder Michael Mauti -- haven't seen the field yet. Desmond Bishop, whom the Vikings signed in the offseason, is sitting behind Marvin Mitchell at weakside linebacker and has played just two snaps. And the two dual-threat running backs the Vikings have faced -- Reggie Bush and Matt Forte -- posted 191 and 161 rushing and receiving yards against the Vikings, respectively.

None of this is to say the Vikings won't improve at linebacker or that Patterson won't become a bigger part of the game plan soon. But as much as the Vikings gave up to get him, and as highly as they valued his explosiveness both as a receiver and a kick returner, it's been interesting to watch how little they've used him in their first two losses, particularly when he's given them some glimpses of what he can do.

"We’re well aware of his talents -- even on the smoke screen when we threw it out and he got 14 yards [on Sunday]," Frazier said. "He doesn’t get lost. We’ll get it rectified."
Earlier this week, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Marvin Mitchell was the team's starting weak-side linebacker "as we sit here today." As tenuous as that plan sounded at the time, it's apparently the one the team is carrying into Sunday's season-opener against Detroit.

Linebacker Desmond Bishop said on Thursday that Vikings coaches told him he won't see much playing time on Sunday, with Mitchell set to start and Bishop not playing on special teams. The Vikings signed Bishop, who missed all of last year with a torn hamstring, to a one-year contract in June, and he looked stronger in the team's final two preseason games after missing the exhibition opener against the Houston Texans and turning in an uneven performance against the Buffalo Bills.

"(I'm) just waiting for my opportunity," Bishop said.

As much as the Lions throw the ball, Mitchell might not see a lot of playing time, either. Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway would be on the field in the team's nickel package, and if last year's two games against the Lions are any indication, the Vikings probably won't use more than two linebackers most of the time against Detroit.

In the first game last year, Greenway and Jasper Brinkley each logged more than 70 snaps, with Mitchell (the third linebacker that week while Henderson was hurt) only playing nine. Their linebackers got more playing time in the second game, with Greenway on the field for every snap, Henderson playing 73 percent of the team's defensive snaps and Brinkley seeing action on 52 percent of them. But defending the Lions starts with the pass, and that could mean more action for a third cornerback (like Xavier Rhodes) than a third linebacker, anyway.

What remains to be seen is how much Reggie Bush changes what defenses do against the Lions. Detroit threw the ball more than any team in the league last year, and Bush could see the ball almost as much in the air as he could on the ground. His presence might cause the Vikings to pay more attention to the run, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he doesn't see the Lions changing much.

"We can guess and try and predict what they’ll do with him," Williams said. "But we just make sure we have to go out and read our keys and focus on what we’re supposed to do, because if we hunt up too many snakes or too many ghosts, we won’t do anything. So we’ve got to look to see what they’ve done in the past with their backs and with their offense. I don’t think they’ll change a whole bunch from years past, last year or the year before that."