Some hack bloggers (anybody know one?) thought it was highly likely the Vikings would target a middle linebacker early in the Draft. Other media types, including one guy who should return a paycheck to his employer for this clunker, thought it was a “100% certainty” that the Vikings would draft Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the first round.
They didn’t target a middle linebacker early on. They didn’t wind up with Te’o… or Alec Ogletree… or Arthur Brown… or Kevin Minter.
In fact, they didn’t draft one until the seventh round, when they selected Michael Mauti from Penn State. Mauti has the talent to be selected much earlier, but an injury history that rivals that of Humpty Dumpty.
Rick Spielman may have, for the second year in a row, used a little misdirection to lead to all of that speculation about the position. Instead, he may have been planning to use Erin Henderson at that spot all along, and the proof of this might be the fact that Henderson has already packed on an extra eight or nine pounds in preparation for his possible move to the inside. Another bit of proof might be that the Vikings quickly signed him to a two year deal worth $4 million, which seemed a little out of place considering how long they let him dangle on the free agent market last offseason before signing him to a one year prove-it deal.
Now that players are starting to flood Winter Park to take part in the offseason programs, things are perhaps starting to come into focus a little more, and we do know that the Vikings are planning on having Henderson play in the middle as of now. This, of course, is a very similar path that his brother E,J. took to becoming a very solid middle linebacker for the Vikings.
Henderson has struggled with pass coverage at times, but he is quite a bit more athletic than last year’s starter Jasper Brinkley was, and could cover more ground. Then, if someone like rookie Gerald Hodges can step into the weakside spot, the Vikings may have themselves a much faster group of linebackers than what we saw in 2012. Considering the amount of mobile quarterbacks on the schedule this coming season, that might just be a key to their potential success, and is certainly something interesting to follow at the very least.