Wednesday, October 7, 2015

desmond bishop

When Rick Spielman decided to win a bidding war with Chicago for the services of right tackle Phil Loadholt, he was willing to make veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield a casualty by sending him packing.  At the time, I opined that the Vikings not only lost their best cornerback as a result, but that they also lost their best linebacker and defensive leader.

Then, through free agency and the NFL Draft, the Vikings refused to make considerable investment into the linebacker position despite numerous opportunities.  Some third day Draft picks, and injury-prone free agent Desmond Bishop, amounted to no immediate upgrade to the starting linebacker positions.  Instead, the team was willing to move forward with Erin Henderson manning the middle.

Now, I am on record as being supportive of Henderson.  I think he has played better than many fans give him credit for.  Until last week, he led the team in tackles.  Only ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison have more sacks than his three.  He leads the Vikings with nine tackles for a loss, is tied for a team lead with two interceptions, and leads all the linebackers with three defended passes.  Those stats, however, have not been enough for fans and analysts to grant Henderson immunity from criticism as the Vikings currently place 29th in pass defense and 24th against the run.

Henderson was expected to step up, take command of the defense, and instead the entire unit has been on a season-long campaign of collapse.  With Winfield gone, and Kevin Williams and Jared Allen clearly on their way out, it seemed natural to look for a leader on defense to ease the transition.  Instead, Henderson has been at the center of a defense that has shown no ability to stop opponents, and instead of being a vocal leader that speaks of consistency and accountability he has found himself in the center of controversy.

That is exactly what you don’t look for in a team leader.

Last week, news broke that Henderson had been picked up for DWI and possession of a controlled substance.  The details are murky right now, and he claims this isn’t the “personal reason” he had for missing last week’s game, but Henderson has a long ways to go before anybody will consider him a legitimate leader on defense.

Henderson counts as the third Vikings player in three weeks to hit the police blotter, which prompted General Manager Rick Spielman to release a public statement, and the Vikings brass cannot be happy about any of this.  Surely this issue will come up when end-of-season evaluations of Henderson’s value are being performed and I can’t imagine the front office will be content relying so heavily on him in 2014 and beyond.

Perhaps the best case scenario, for Henderson, is to end up back at the weakside spot.

That would certainly seem like a preferred alternative to being out of a job.

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As is getting destroyed at home by the 1-3 Carolina Panthers didn’t hurt enough, the real salt in the wound was three substantial injuries to defensive players.

Desmond Bishop suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Panthers. Despite being to limp off the field, the Vikings announced today that Bishop’s season has come to an end with a torn ACL in the right knee. The game against Carolina was Bishop’s first and last start of the season. Bishop, who struggled to get on the field at linebacker despite it being one of the Vikings [many] weaknesses likely means it was his last game in Minnesota. Desmond Bishop, 29, was only signed to a one-year deal and will be a free agent after 2013.

Linebackers coach Fred Pagac and the rest of the Vikings’ staff will have a tough time in camp and preseason trimming this group of linebackers down to the top 7 guys. The 2012 squad had 7 backers on it, so unless the Vikings eliminate the 3rd QB spot to make room for an extra linebacker this year, I think the Vikings will be forced to cut 3 of the 10 linebackers in camp.

At this point the only certainty is that 2012 All-Pro Chad Greenway will be back as the starting strong-side linebacker. The 2006 first round pick from Iowa started all 16 games last year and finished with 148 combined tackles which ranked 3rd in the NFL. Greenway’s leadership will be needed again this year as Pagac will probably rotate the other linebackers in and out as he did last season.

With some degree of certainty I can say that undrafted rookie Nathan Williams has no chance to make the 53 man roster. An ankle injury that required surgery in June has him sidelined on the PUP list which may put the screws to any opportunity show what he can do.

This off-season the Vikings moved Erin Henderson, last year’s starter on the weak side, to the middle linebacker spot. It looks like this move will stick through camp and preseason but I wouldn’t mortgage the farm that he will start all 16 games in the middle. Henderson was the Vikings 7th leading tackler with 50 solo stops last season on the outside. So far in camp Leslie Frazier is encouraged by Henderson’s transition to the middle, and Erin appears hungry to hold on to his new job. Some early camp notes and highlights include a couple big hits from Henderson and some overall solid play.

The topic of the week, which happens be literally the only topic of the week, is the decision of linebacker Desmond Bishop to choose the Vikings over multiple other offers.  Details of his deal have been revealed and it appears Rick Spielman signed a high-upside player to a very low-risk one year contract.  Bishop’s deal is reportedly worth up to $1.35 million, with playing time incentives built in, which is a bargain by just about anyone’s standards.  Even Erin Henderson, who Bishop is expected to force back to the weak side position, will make more money this season than Bishop.

So, despite the lack of experience in a 4-3 defense and his recent injury woes, I can’t see why anyone would have any issue with this signing.  Some might be expecting far too much from our new linebacker, but I just fail to see the downside.

Now is your chance to voice your opinion, however, so use the poll below and the comments section to let us know what you are thinking.

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