Friday, November 27, 2015

tyrone mckenzie

As I mentioned earlier this week, injuries on both teams make Saturday night’s game between the Vikings and Packers a completely unique matchup compared to their previous two.

The Vikings special teams struggled last week with linebacker Tyrone McKenzie leaving due to a shoulder injury.  He has been ruled out once again making the Vikings coverage team a point of interest in this one, especially since electric return man Randall Cobb (ankle) is probable to return to the field.

In fact, Cobb’s return means that the Packers talented group of receivers are now healthier than they have been all season long.  Greg Jennings is at 100% now while Jordy Neson (knee) and Jermichael Finley (quadriceps) are both listed as probable.

The sudden health of Aaron Rodgers passing weapons unfortunately coincides with the Vikings secondary having some substantial health questions.  Rodgers threw a pass in Antoine Winfield’s direction only once prior to Winfield leaving last week’s game with a broken hand that swelled up on him, and then proceeded to pick on his replacement, Marcus Sherels, 10 times in the remainder of the game.

Winfield is listed as questionable but has indicated he will be wearing a new cast on the hand and plans on playing through the pain.  His injured teammates in the secondary are Harrison Smith (knee) and A.J. Jefferson (ankle) are both listed as probable, however.

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder was only able to prepare for his latest biggest career game on a limited basis this week due to an elbow injury in his throwing arm.  Leslie Frazier indicated that Ponder is doing everything possible to get ready for this game, and it seems highly unlikely that anyone else gets the start, but one can’t help but wonder if Joe Webb might be making an appearance Saturday night.

Adrian Peterson (abdomen), Brian Robison (shoulder), Jared Allen (shoulder), George Johnson (quadriceps), Chris Kluwe (knee), and Phil Loadholt (knee) are all listed as probable.

Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin and defensive end Jerel Worthy have both been ruled out after suffering injuries last week.  Running back James Starks (knee) is listed as questionable.

Cornerbacks Tramon Williams (illness) and Davon House (hip) are both considered probable.  Also probable is Charles Woodson (collarbone) who is expected to give the Packers a boost in pass defense after missing considerable time.

The weather forecast for Green Bay is looking to be sub-freezing conditions and possible frozen precipitation.  Considering the Packers passing prowess, and Adrian Peterson’s dominance on the ground, I say the nastier the weather is the better off the Vikings are.

After all, an ice pellet or two clinking off of Mason Crosby’s helmet might just be enough to…

Rick Spielman had a chance to sign one of the many proven middle linebackers that hit the open market back in March.

He passed.

Instead, the team has decided to move forward with Jasper Brinkley, a fifth round selection in 2009, to take over the position that E.J. Henderson has held for so long.  Brinkley filled in for Henderson quite well during his rookie season, but last year he missed every game due to a hip injury that is apparently still lingering.

“I know what we saw when he came in as a rookie and when he came in and filled in for E.J. and the potential we saw there,” Spielman recently told 1500 ESPN.  “He’s a big banger, physical inside middle linebacker that probably doesn’t get enough credit for his athletic skill set as well.”

Spielman can’t help but admit that Brinkley’s health concerns could be a problem, however.

“But again, the durability is a question right now,” continued Spielman, “just because he hasn’t played in a year and hasn’t played much at all hardly through this offseason.”

The Vikings are keeping Brinkley in Minnesota between now and training camp and Spielman says the goal is to make sure he is 100% ready to go by the time training camp rolls around.  Rookie Audie Cole, practice squad player Tyrone MCKenzie and free agent pickup Marvin Mitchell make up the depth chart behind Brinkley and have been seeing increased reps during his absence.

“There’s no question Jasper’s slated in there, but there is some competition going on,” Spielman said of the starting position. “Jasper has to show that he can be on the field, and if not, like I said, we’ll monitor where our young guys are, where some of our backups are and can they do it, and if not, we’ll definitely have to explore the market outside.”

“It’s a big year for him as well, I know, because he’s going into the last year of his contract,” noted Spielman.  “So, he wants — he needs to get on the field.”

I find the timing of Spielman expressing his concerns kind of puzzling.  When free agency opened up he watched guys like Curtis Lofton, Stephen Tulloch, David Hawthorne, and Dan Connor sign with other teams despite their proven talent and fairly ideal age.

If Brinkley doesn’t pan out because of injuries, and the depth behind him proves to be inadequate, then the decision to make middle linebacker a non-priority could be one that comes back and bites Spielman in the ass.

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Jasper Brinkley made was all set to be E.J. Henderson’s primary backup at middle linebacker in 2011, but a preseason hip injury sent him to injured reserve which meant he didn’t play a single snap in the regular season.

This year, the stakes are even higher as he is in line to outright replace Henderson as the team’s starting middle linebacker, but once again injures are casting a shadow of doubt over his ability to successfully man the position.

In the middle of the OTA schedule Brinkley suffered a groin injury.  He opened Tuesday’s minicamp on the sideline, but Brinkley says the reason is not his groin injury, but rather is related to the hip injury from last year.

“Just a process with the hip, still keep going so hopefully I’ll be out at practice one day before (minicamp is over),” Brinkley said on Tuesday. “This goes back to the hip. Other than that, though, everything is good.”

Brinkley described the decision to sit out as “precautionary” and said if this were a regular season game he would be playing.

“The first couple of OTAs, I was able to do a little bit. I was able to show what I could do,” Brinkley said. “I’m pretty sure if the coaches weren’t satisfied they would bring somebody else in. It’s still a work in progress.”

Brinkley is probably right about that.  The Vikings passed on a chance to sign Rocky McIntosh, who has now signed with the Rams, but other options still exist if they don’t think Brinkley is a true solution.

One of those options?  E.J. Henderson.

Tyrone McKenzie has been playing as the first team middle linebacker during Brinkley’s absence.

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