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Updated: July 21st, 2012 11:57pm
Scouting the Vikings: Jasper Brinkley 'kind of a throwback' in middle

Scouting the Vikings: Jasper Brinkley 'kind of a throwback' in middle

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Each day until players report to training camp on July 26, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practices, tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 4

Linebackers.

On the roster (11)

Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole, Larry Dean, Solomon Elimimian, Chad Greenway, Everson Griffen, Erin Henderson, Tyrone McKenzie, Marvin Mitchell, Tyler Nielsen, Corey Paredes.

Departures

Xavier Adibi (unsigned), E.J. Henderson (unsigned), Kenny Onatolu (non-tendered, signed with Carolina).

The skinny

Greenway (6-foot-2, 242 pounds) is athletic and can run down plays all over the field from the sam position, which sometimes appears to function more like a will in the Vikings' 4-3 "under" front. He was exposed at times in coverage last season and made fewer impact plays, but no one should benefit more from improved play around him, not to mention the return of Fred Pagac as his position coach. Henderson (6-3, 244) is a thumper on the weak side who functions well enough in coverage to play the mike in nickel. He has a better chance to cover the deep middle in Tampa-2 than Brinkley (6-1, 252), who has strong downhill run traits but never has moved particularly well in space. It wouldn't be a total shock if Henderson ends up sliding over to replace Brinkley in the base defense at some point, particularly if injuries -- hip surgery that sidelined him for all of 2011, a groin strain that cost him much of this offseason -- continue to be an issue. A natural end, Griffen (6-3, 273) moves remarkably well for his size and will open camp behind Henderson on the weak side. But scouts are skeptical about Griffen as more than a package-specific player there, and he figures to keep getting pass-rushing chances on the line, too.

Best battles

Two or three backup spots appear to be open, although it's not hard to guess who has the inside track. Mitchell (6-3, 246) has appeared in 71 NFL games, is known for his special-teams ability and got a $25,000 signing bonus on a minimum salary benefit deal. Cole (6-5, 239) is a seventh-round pick with an intriguing frame who caught coaches' eyes at the Senior Bowl. Dean (6-0, 226) played in every game last season on special teams. McKenzie (6-2, 245) played the middle in Brinkley's absence from minicamp but appears to be fighting an uphill battle.

Sleeper alert

Size notwithstanding, the Canadian import Elimimian (6-0, 227) is known as a hard hitter who figures to come on when the pads go on. Nielsen (6-4, 235) got one of the largest bonuses ($7,500) among the Vikings' undrafted rookie signings. But the Iowa product looked stiff and tentative in the offseason and might have ceded ground to Paredes (6-0, 235), who signed for $5,000 out of Hawaii.

One NFL scout's take on ... Jasper Brinkley

"We haven't seen (Brinkley) in a couple years. He's done well in the preseason, but we don't see much of it other than that. He's a downhill, straight-forward guy. He's kind of a throwback. But E.J. was kind of like that last year, too, towards the end. He looked like he really got old last year. He couldn't cover last year either."
-- NFC personnel man

Outlook

It remains to be seen how coach Leslie Frazier and new coordinator Alan Williams end up tweaking the scheme, but any Tampa-2 team will struggle without a solid mike linebacker who can drop vertically and play in a lot of space downfield. This group should be just fine against the run. Coverage may be another story, and another nick or two on Brinkley could force coaches to look in another direction.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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