Pelissero: Middle linebacker 'the unknown' after Vikings' draft haul
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Rick Spielman chuckled when asked on Sunday whether free agent Brian Urlacher is a possibility to fill the Minnesota Vikings' middle linebacker spot.
But Spielman acknowledged that's the most unsettled position on the roster after the first round of the NFL Draft provided potential fills for three other holes.
"I would say (yes), just because it's the unknown," the Vikings' general manager said in an interview with 1500 ESPN. "But I think we have a lot of prospects there, and it'll be interesting to see what happens as we go through this process and which guys -- 'Oh, yeah, we feel very good.' ... We do have some good, young bodies that are viable candidates."
The Vikings passed three times on Georgia's Alec Ogletree, Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and every other middle linebacker on Thursday night, opting to select Florida undertackle Sharrif Floyd (No. 23 overall), Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes (No. 25) and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 29).
They gave up their second- and third-round picks in the trade up to get Patterson, making them wait until the draft's third day to take Penn State linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti in the fourth and seventh rounds, respectively -- not places teams usually find immediate starters.
When the Vikings' coaches and scouts meet on Monday to discuss the roster, a mike linebacker depth chart that includes two recent seventh-round picks (Mauti and Audie Cole) and perhaps Erin Henderson, a weakside player re-signed in part for his versatility, surely will a hot topic.
"And I'm not going to discount what Audie Cole did last year in training camp when we moved him inside and how he progressed," Spielman said. "Even though he didn't play on the field last year, we have a pretty good feel of where he's progressed as well through the whole season and what you've seen in practice and you've seen how he developed."
Urlacher, the longtime Chicago Bear who turns 35 next month, is a declining player and doesn't fit the Vikings' profile. The same goes for Paris Lenon (age 35), Karlos Dansby (31) and Daryl Smith (31), among others who'd be taking reps from a younger, cheaper player with upside.
Spielman didn't rule out anything on Sunday, though, and there's a strong chance he'll hear a push in Monday's meeting to at least give coaches an experienced alternative at what usually is regarded as a leadership position until someone proves himself in camp.
"We're very excited about all the young players we've accumulated over this weekend," Spielman said. "We've got a rookie minicamp coming up (Friday through Sunday), and we're going to evaluate where we're at as a roster and where we see some of these young guys. The evaluation process starts as soon as they walk in the door.
"Right now, I don't anticipate us doing anything (with Urlacher). But in the personnel side, you're always out there looking for potential players or this or that who can come in and add and help you win ballgames."
The Vikings had 65 players under contract entering Thursday, when they agreed to terms on a one-year deal with veteran end Lawrence Jackson. They selected nine players in draft, leaving 15 spots for undrafted rookies under the 90-man offseason limit.
The team had not announced any undrafted rookie signings as of Sunday night, and no deals become official until players pass physicals anyway. The following position-by-position look at the roster includes 16 undrafted rookies who have agreed to terms according to agents, colleges or mainstream media outlets.
Either one (or more) of the signings isn't actually happening, or a player already under contract must be released to make room. Another 30 to 35 players will be invited to rookie camp on a tryout basis.
Additions: Undrafted -- James Vandenberg, Iowa.
Analysis: No surprises here. Ponder is the starter, Cassel is the backup and the rest will sort itself out through the offseason.
Running backs (9)
Additions: Undrafted -- Zach Line, Southern Methodist; Bradley Randle, UNLV; Robbie Rouse, Fresno State; Jerodis Williams, Furman.
Analysis: Again, no surprises. Peterson is the starting halfback. Gerhart is the top backup, though it's likely the Vikings would listen to trade offers come camp. Asiata is the versatile No. 3 and will have to compete to keep that job. Felton has a new contract that ensures he'll be the fullback for at least another season.
Unsigned: Devin Aromashodu.
Analysis: Patterson is a raw route-runner who probably will need many of his touches manufactured out of the gate, not unlike Harvin did the past four seasons. That leaves Simpson as the starting split end and Jennings as the flanker, with Wright a situational threat in the vertical passing game and Summers a dark horse to challenge for time at the "X".
Tight ends (6)
Additions: Undrafted -- Colin Anderson, Furman.
Analysis: Two jobs are safe, with Rudolph the strongside, inline starter with receiving skills and Ellison the gritty, versatile "H". Carlson can be a weakside pass-catcher but needs to stay healthy and find his place in the offense to avoid opening the door for a younger, cheaper alternative.
Offensive linemen (14)
Depatures: Geoff Schwartz (signed with Kansas City).
Analysis: Three starters are locked in with Kalil, Loadholt and Sullivan, who will sit out most of offseason practices while recovering from microfracture knee surgery. Johnson figures to remain the left guard and Fusco will get the first crack at staying on the right, though several players -- Kropog, Olsen, maybe even Love -- could end up pushing him there. Baca fits the aggressive mold the Vikings want in their linemen and will work at guard and center. Bond mainly played guard in college but has the size (6-6, 329) to play tackle. Both rookies realistically are probably a year away. The competition for backup jobs appears wide open, though Berger has a head start inside.
Defensive linemen (17)
Additions: First round (23rd overall) -- Sharrif Floyd, Florida. Seventh round -- Everett Dawkins, Florida State. Undrafted -- Marquis Jackson, Portland State; Anthony McCloud, Florida State; Collins Uwku, Kentucky; Nathan Williams, Ohio State.
Analysis: Williams' restructured contract includes a fully guaranteed base salary of $4.9 million, so he's not going anywhere in 2013 despite the arrival of Floyd and Dawkins at the three-technique. If anyone should be nervous, it's Ballard, who has been pedestrian through two seasons. Guion and Evans remain atop the depth chart at nose. Jackson agreed to terms on a one-year deal on Thursday, joining the versatile Griffen as a backup end behind Allen and Robison. Everyone else, including Dawkins, figures to compete for one or two spots.
Departures: Jasper Brinkley (signed with Arizona).
Analysis: Greenway will start at the sam. Henderson figures to start at the will or perhaps the mike, depending whether a young player comes on or the Vikings dip into veteran free agency. Hodges is on the small side (6-1, 243), so he's probably best suited for playing on the outside and in space. Mauti looks more like a mike but may be hard-pressed to compete for a significant role in camp, roughly 8½ months after re-tearing the ACL in his left knee.
Defensive backs (16)
On the roster: Robert Blanton, Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Bobby Felder, A.J. Jefferson, Greg McCoy, Mistral Raymond, Josh Robinson, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo, Marcus Sherels, Harrison Smith, Nick Taylor, Roderick Williams.
Departures: Antoine Winfield (released, signed with Seattle).
Additions: First round (25th overall) -- Xavier Rhodes, Florida State. Undrafted -- Brandan Bishop, North Carolina State.
Analysis: Rhodes immediately becomes the favorite to start outside opposite Cook, with Robinson the probable nickel. Jefferson also will compete but is best suited to be the dime. Burton, Sherels and the intriguing practice-squad holdover Felder all figure to get chances as well. Smith is the starter at one safety and Sanford enters the offseason as the starter at the other, with Raymond and Blanton competing in a battle that figures to be decided in camp.
Additions: Fifth round (155th overall) -- Jeff Locke, UCLA.
Analysis: Walsh is the kicker. It would be a surprise if the left-footed Locke isn't the punter, replacing Kluwe, who insists he wants to compete to keep the job. Colin Anderson, the Furman tight end, was a long snapper in college but it's unclear to what extent the Vikings might give him a look in the role Loeffler has held for nine seasons.