I won't be writing about the Percy Harvin thing because TBird and Pacifist Viking already covered it here and here. I really have nothing more to add, and the controversy kinda sorta died down when Harvin returned to practise last Thursday and tweeted that he'd see his fans in Mankato.
So I'm going to be writing about the Vikings middle linebacker spot. The favorite to man the position is Jasper Brinkley. But no one – not even the Vikings coaching staff is sure he can handle the job – and last week Brinkley was unable to practise during mandatory OTAs because of either a groin issue (the Vikings explanation) or a hip issue (Brinkley's explanation).
The Vikings would appear to be in some deep shit if Brinkley can't go or his play is compromised because he's still bothered by the hip injury that kept him out all of last year. While middle linebackers don't seem to be as valued as they once were, in the Vikings Cover Two defensive scheme that position is still pretty important. So if Brinkley can't go, who plays that spot? Practice squad player Tyrone McKenzie? Seventh round draft pick Audie Cole? Special teamer Marvin Mitchell?
How about none of the above because a better solution is out there. His name is E.J. Henderson.
Look, I'm fine with giving Brinkley a chance to prove he can do the job (2012 will be a good time for such experiments), but if training camp arrives and he still isn't able to play, signing Henderson to a cheap one-year deal makes immense sense. The defense won't be new to him. He still has the ability to be a good downhill run stopper. Just don't have him playing three downs. Leave that to Chad Greenway and little bro' Erin Henderson.
And let's not pretend that if Brinkley can't make it back onto the field that signing E.J. and playing him will prevent the Vikings from finding out if some other young stud can do the job - there is no other young stud on the roster.
I've heard good things about Cole, yet it would be expecting a lot for a seventh-round draft pick to take over the middle linebacker starting role and do it competently. And McKenzie and Mitchell might not even make the team.
Griffen is a talented guy. However, he needs more snaps than he got last year (which was around 10-15 per game) to show that talent. As Judd Zulgad points out, the Vikings are trying to figure out how to do that with the third-year defensive end.
Griffen is sort of the defensive version of Joe Webb for the Vikes. He's a gifted athlete who can do a lot of things. But he plays a position where the Vikings are committed to other options. In Webb's case that other option is Christian Ponder. In Griffen's case that is Jared Allen and Brian Robison.
Griffen is actually in a similar situation to Robison when he was entering his third NFL season. Just as Robison flashed pass rushing ability in limited snaps and we all wondered what he could do with more, the same holds true for Griffen. The Vikings can make that happen by using him more than they did last year as a nickel rusher from the inside, by using him as an outside linebacker now and then, and by spelling Allen and Robison with Griffen to keep the starters fresher.
The Vikings also need to find out if Griffen can be a starting defensive end in this league. In 2013, Griffen will be entering the last year of his rookie contract and will be just 25. Robison will be entering the last year of his contract extension and will be 30. If Griffen is productive in a backup role, my guess is the Vikings will let Robison walk after the 2013 season ends and resign the younger (and likely cheaper) Griffen to take over Robison's starting left defensive end spot. But they can't do that if they don't give Griffen more playing time on Sundays.