With long-time starter E.J. Henderson, the Vikings are leaving the door open to his return, but it seems more likely they move on.  In an offseason where free agent linebackers are, for some reason, getting treated like they have less value than punters, the Vikings have kept their distance from any of them.

One reason for that is that they have high hopes for third year player Jasper Brinkley.

Brinkley is 26 years old and missed all of 2011 when he had hip surgery in August.  He had played in all 32 games of the previous seasons, including taking Henderson’s place in 2009 following the leg injury that ended his season.

“When (Brinkley) did step in for E.J., he continued to get better and really started playing well — especially as we went through the playoffs and the more experience he got,” Spielman said from the NFL’s owner meetings.

“He started off very well last year (in training camp) and it’s a shame he got his hip hurt,” Spielman continued, “but we’ve got a lot of high expectations for Jasper coming back.”

Henderson, age 31, does not seem to fit into Spielman’s youth movement strategy employed this offseason and the most likely scenario is that Brinkley’s main source of competition will come from the 2012 NFL Draft.

For now, consider starting middle linebacker Brinkley’s job to lose.