EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have addressed a lot of problem areas over the past year.
They stockpiled cornerbacks to strengthen a weak secondary. They added a fast, flashy wide receiver and drafted two more potential pass-catchers. Their first-round pick will be asked to anchor the offensive line for years to come.
There’s one important position group that brings more questions than answers into this season. The Vikings are still looking for linebackers. While there is time for three quality starters to emerge with three solid special teams contributors behind them before the games begin to count, coach Leslie Frazier didn’t sound confident yet in the group he has.
Frazier used the words “hoping” and “trying” and “not quite there yet” when asked for assessment after Tuesday’s practice.
“We’ll see how it pans out over the next couple of practices we have and when we get to training camp,” Frazier said.
Frazier said there is a chance the team will have free agent Brian Banks in for a workout later this week. The 26-year-old has become one of the most intriguing stories of this offseason after he was exonerated last month in a rape case that had him imprisoned in California for more than five years. Banks was a high school star when he was originally convicted, derailing his career. Banks was also scheduled to participate in Seattle’s minicamp this week.
The Vikings are more focused on making sure Jasper Brinkley is healthy in his recovery from hip surgery that kept him out all last season and good enough to replace unsigned veteran E.J. Henderson as the starter at the middle spot.
Brinkley was held out of Tuesday’s practice as a precaution due to a strained groin suffered last week, and most of Frazier’s concern about the position stemmed from the fourth-year player’s absence from the action.
“That’s probably our biggest dilemma right now, just identifying the right three. Part of that is, with Jasper being injured, you don’t get a chance to work on the combinations you want,” Frazier said.
Brinkley said he was hurt on “one of those crazy little trip-and-fall things” but said he’ll be ready to go again by next week. Brinkley pointed to a pen tucked into his visor as evidence of the work he’s been doing to increase his comfort with the scheme and his responsibilities.
“Just staying fresh mentally,” Brinkley said.
That was hard to do last year on injured reserve.
“Just continue to keep grinding,” Brinkley said, praising head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and his staff for their guidance through his rehabilitation. “Just listen to those guys. They know what they’re doing. They’ve got me to this point. I trust them.”
Stalwart Chad Greenway is back as the leader of the group, but he is coming off a relatively quiet season that included being picked as an injury replacement for his first Pro Bowl. Greenway has been missing, too, tending to a serious family matter that Frazier has not specified. Erin Henderson, who had a decent first year as a starter at the other outside spot, is the other incumbent. Veteran Marvin Mitchell is the only other player currently on the roster with notable NFL experience.
That’s why Henderson has quickly become the vocal leader of this group.
“Now if I’m saying something, I think that the younger guys are starting to pay attention. And even the older guys are starting to listen as well,” Henderson said. “So it’s a good feeling. It’s a cool feeling and something I’m excited about.”
Playing relatively well last season has helped him embrace that role.
“It was my first chance to really get out there. And guys know that, ‘OK, Erin’s not just all talk. He’s going to go out there and go play for us on Sundays,’” Henderson said. “He’s going to give us what he’s got, and that’s more important than anything else.”
Notes: After taking part in the first round of these so-called organized team activities, WR Percy Harvin has been absent. Frazier insisted again this isn’t related to the arthroscopic shoulder surgery he had recently, stressing the “voluntary” nature of these spring practices. Frazier said he expects Harvin to participate in next week’s mandatory minicamp, along with every other player on the roster. Greenway’s status is the only question, but he would be excused. ... Rookie WR Greg Childs has eased back into practice after being held out of several workouts because of a strained calf.