The Vikings are calling an audible on the notion that Erin Henderson is the undisputed starting middle linebacker.
Henderson said Wednesday that coaches have talked to him about moving to the middle spot from the weakside position, where he started the last two years, but Leslie Frazier said at the start of rookie minicamp that several players will get the opportunity to compete for the opening that was created when Jasper Brinkley signed a free-agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
“We want to take a look at some things in this minicamp, and we’ll probably make a decision after we get done, and talk about some things. But he’s definitely in that conversation,” Frazier said of Henderson.
At the team’s three-day rookie minicamp that started Friday, they got their first look at former Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges, who was working mainly on the outside. Injured seventh-round pick Michael Mauti was also on the field taking “mental reps” as the rest of the players went through practice.
Mauti tored his ACL for the third time in his final season at Penn State. He hopes to be practicing for the Vikings when training camp opens at the end of July.
“No question he’s behind as a rookie, to miss all the reps he’s going to miss between now and training camp,” Frazier said. “It makes it tough, but he’s capable of catching up. He’ll have to. He’s definitely going to be behind when we get to training camp.”
But the list of candidates to start in the middle doesn’t stop with the draft picks and Henderson. Frazier said the backup linebackers from last year will also be in the mix.
“Audie Cole is a part of that, as well. Tyrone McKenzie’s one of the guys we’ll take a look at. … We’ve got some options, and Erin is definitely one of those guys we’re talking about,” Frazier said.
If Henderson does move to middle linebacker, Marvin Mitchell would be one of the options to take his spot on the weakside, and Hodges would be a viable candidate there, too.
In addition to the nine draft picks and 16 undrafted free agents the Vikings signed, they had more than two dozen rookies attend minicamp on a tryout basis as well nine players that didn’t get any playing time last year – WRs Chris Summers and Lamark Brown (who was listed as a tight end last year), CBs Rod Williams, Greg McCoy and Bobby Felder, DT Chase Baker, G Tyler Holmes, T Kevin Murphy and TE Chase Ford.
One of the most intriguing players attending on a tryout basis is WR Duron Carter, the son of Cris Carter, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
Although the odds are long that a tryout player will be signed, Frazier gave them a positive review after the first practice. “So far, from what I’ve seen, there are no throwaways in this group,” he said. “It’s a good group all the way around.”
Punter Jeff Locke, drafted in the fifth round, was working at the Metrodome with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer while the rest of the players practiced at the team’s Winter Park practice facility.
“There’s some things we want to take a look at with Jeff and just see if he’s capable of getting certain things accomplished that we’d like to see happen,” Frazier said. “I don’t want to be too specific, but there’s some things we want to be able to look at with him and see if he can get them done.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.