EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has shared his displeasure with the team's depth at linebacker, making a point of stating it's one position that needs work before the season begins on Sept. 9.
Frazier has been hoping to get more out of the current group on the roster and hasn't been afraid to say the team is always looking at what's available in free agency as well. Frazier even hinted some changes, though not necessarily at linebacker, could be made before the team reports for training camp on July 26.
In the meantime, Frazier is trying to solve the problem internally, by revisiting an old experiment.
Third-year defensive end Everson Griffen is again working at linebacker in an attempt to shore up the depth and also to get the explosive Griffen on the field more. He worked the final practice of mandatory minicamp last week at linebacker and Frazier said Griffen will get more repetitions as a linebacker during training camp.
"Based on what we see in Mankato, that's going to determine (if Griffen stays as the top backup at defensive end)," Frazier said. "We want to give him a chance to see if he can help us at that linebacker spot where we're still working with our depth. We're still trying to identify what our depth is going to be at that position."
Griffen, at 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, has unique athletic abilities. He played three defensive positions last season, including limited snaps at linebacker, and stood out on the special teams' coverage units. He 14 tackles on defense, four for loss, four sacks and eight quarterback hurries while splitting his time between defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker. He added 18 tackles and a forced fumble on special teams.
But Griffen, 24, is stuck behind All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen and solid starter Brian Robison. In a similar situation last season, Griffen started practicing with the linebackers. The experiment, at least in practice, ended quickly though. He ended up seeing some snaps at linebacker during games, but was mostly along the defensive line and forced his way into the third-down packages as an inside pass rusher at times.
A fourth-round pick in 2010, Griffen ran a 4.66 at the scouting combine. He can use that athleticism as a way to get on the field and he said he "loved" playing linebacker and doesn't mind moving around.
"I'm comfortable," Griffen said. "With my athletic ability, I feel like I can come and pretty much do anything. That's not me being cocky. I just feel like I can just come in and adapt to the situation."
Griffen practiced with the first team during organized team activities, but was back in his reserve role once Jared Allen returned to Minnesota for minicamp. By the end of minicamp, Griffen was practicing in a new role to see if he could be a solution to the team's depth at linebacker.
Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley is still dealing with an injury, leaving the Vikings with free-agent signee Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie, Larry Dean, rookie Audie Cole and Solomon Elimimian, signed out of the Canadian Football League.
Training camp will determine if Griffen is more than just a part-time linebacker.
"We'd like to be able to escalate (his snaps at linebacker) a little bit and maybe even in the early downs, get him on the field," Frazier said. "We feel like we have two outstanding defensive ends in Jared and then Brian, but with Everson, he's an excellent athlete. You want to be able to get him more than 10 or 15 snaps a game and this is a way to possibly do that so we'll explore and see how he comes along in Mankato."
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