Zulgad: Once again, Vikings' moves mean far more than their message
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Everyone has heard the adage, "Do as I say and not as I do."
When following an NFL team, the rule of thumb should be this: "Pay attention to what they do, and disregard nearly everything they say."
This point was driven home again on Monday afternoon when reports surfaced that the Minnesota Vikings planned to bring in middle linebacker Desmond Bishop for a workout on Tuesday. This came only hours after the Green Bay Packers announced they were releasing Bishop from a four-year, $19 million contract extension that he had agreed to in January 2011.
Ever since Jasper Brinkley walked out the door and signed a two-year, $3.5 million free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals in March, the Vikings have done nothing to quiet the talk that they would move Erin Henderson from weak-side linebacker to the middle.
Despite Henderson expressing his frustration over the fact many feel this move might be a poor idea, the reality is that having Henderson anchoring the middle is troublesome for two reasons.
One, is the fact the middle linebacker in the Tampa-2 defense has major responsibilities in the passing game. If Henderson struggles with this assignment, a team that took a huge step last season could be exposed in a big way playing in a division that features three excellent quarterbacks in Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, Chicago's Jay Cutler and Detroit's Matthew Stafford.
Two, is that if Henderson is asked to move inside, that likely would mean backup Marvin Mitchell or fourth-round pick Gerald Hodges of Penn State is asked to start at the Will. Mitchell is a contributor on special teams, and fills a need on the roster, but has started three times in six seasons.
One argument from those not concerned about the linebacker situation has been that the Vikings spend so much time in their nickel defense, meaning five defensive backs are on the field, that the third linebacker isn't that big of deal. But this is the NFL and every offensive coordinator is looking to exploit a weakness.
If Mitchell or Hodges appears vulnerable, teams will go after them every time they are on the field and that has the potential to become a big issue.
The other problem is that veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield is no longer around to play inside in the nickel defense. Winfield, who was let go by the Vikings and decided to sign with Seattle instead of taking a lesser deal from Minnesota, is among the NFL's hardest-hitting corners and his savvy makes him almost a hybrid corner/linebacker when he faces slot receivers.
It appears the far-more-inexperienced Josh Robinson might spend this season lining up inside in the nickel and if you think he's going to be able to provide the same type of play as Winfield that's simply naïve.
While the Vikings weren't about to show any panic about not making any real immediate upgrades at linebacker this offseason, deciding to kick the tires on Bishop makes perfect sense and shows there is a definite desire to explore outside options. Bishop would come with some risk, having missed the 2012 season after suffering a torn hamstring in the preseason.
So why not have taken care of any linebacker concerns by using a high draft pick on one?
Perhaps there was an original intention by the Vikings to use one of their two first-round selections on Notre Dame linebacker Mantei Te'o, but that changed when Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd tumbled to Minnesota at No. 23 and two picks later Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes was still around.
The Vikings' final shot at Teo came when they traded with New England to get back into the first round, but that was done to nab Tennessee wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson at No. 29 overall.
It's difficult to criticize any of the first-round selections - each addressed a real need - but the Vikings find themselves in an interesting position as training camp approaches. A year ago, there were no real expectations for a team coming off a 3-13 season and general manager Rick Spielman had the ability to make almost any move he wanted and not be criticized.
At this time last year, a six-victory season would have been seen as a success by many.
But with the Vikings having surprised everyone, including themselves, by going 10-6 and earning a playoff berth in 2012, there is now a feeling that the ascension should and needs to continue.
That's one reason why after Percy Harvin forced his way out of Minnesota, the Vikings responded by first pursuing free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace and then signing Greg Jennings away from the Packers.
There is little doubt Spielman had to swallow hard as he gave a veteran wide receiver with some injury issues a five-year, $45 million contract that includes $17.8 million in guarantees. But Spielman also knew he had to upgrade at wide receiver if the Vikings were going to build on what they started last year.
On Wednesday, as coach Leslie Frazier's team goes through the second day of its mandatory three-day minicamp, Bishop, a former and perhaps future teammate of Jennings, will be at Winter Park getting a look. Signing a guy like Bishop might not have been in Spielman's original blue print, but expectations for 2013 mean that blue print probably looks different than it did a year ago.
Spielman might never admit this publicly but always remember that what he does, not what he says, will be the true indication of what he wants to do with this roster.