Jasper Brinkley (Grant Helverson/Getty)
The Vikings will have three linebackers who see their most extensive action Sunday as the domino effect of Erin Henderson’s concussion takes effect. Plus, Chris Kluwe’s outspoken approach isn’t a distraction yet, along with other injury and suspension updates.
Three Vikings linebackers are expected to see their most significant action Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers after Erin Henderson was officially ruled out.
Marvin Mitchell will be the starter in place of Henderson, and Jasper Brinkley’s reps will increase with him playing the nickel linebacker role in addition to being the starting middle linebacker. Additionally, rookie Audie Cole will be active, making it the most significant action for all three of those linebackers since they joined the team.
Mitchell and Cole, acquired via free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft respectively, will be active for the first time this season. Mitchell was expected to compete for a starting job, but an ankle injury in the preseason took him out of contention for that role and made him unavailable for the first two games of the regular season.
“Up until the injury in the preseason, we were pleased with the progress he was making. He was battling for a spot and he did a good job throughout training camp,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of Mitchell. “Then when the injury occurred, it obviously set him back. This is his first week getting back to practice and low and behold he ends up having to start. I think he’ll do a good job.
“He’s done a good job in camp against the run and played the pass well. He has a good grasp of what we’re trying to do from a defensive standpoint. What he’ll miss is the speed of the game, this being his first week back. That will be an adjustment for him. Hopefully it won’t take him a lot of plays to adjust to that part of it.”
Henderson had been playing in both the base defense and the nickel defense for the Vikings, playing all 81 snaps in the season opener and then missing only 11 snaps last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts because of injury.
“He’s been doing a good job for us. He had a real good game a week ago, the one exception being that one play (a 30-yard touchdown given up to Reggie Wayne). I don’t know if that overshadows the ballgame. We’ll miss it, but it gives someone else an opportunity,” Frazier said.
While Mitchell will start, Brinkley will stay in the game and play during obvious passing downs, which will leave him on the field for almost the entire game after playing in only 74 of 151 defensive snaps in the first two games.
“This will be his chance just to show his teammates, along with everyone else, that I can do more than play on first and second down,” Frazier said. “It’s a great opportunity for him and I know he’s looking forward to it.”
Of course, the 49ers bring one of the league’s most dangerous tight ends to the Metrodome on Sunday. Vernon Davis is the team’s second-leading receiver with eight catches for 116 yards, a 14.5-yard average, and leads the team with three receiving touchdowns.
“Man, he is a challenge,” Frazier said. “I watched him run by cornerbacks, by safeties, by linebackers. He is a very good tight end. You definitely have to pay attention to him. He’s the primary target at times for the quarterback.”
POLITICS OR PUNTING?
Punter Chris Kluwe has been outspoken about freedom of speech and his support of gay marriage. He has appeared on numerous national television shows and written essays for deadspin.com and other web sites.
But is there a point where his media exposure is a distraction to the team? Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said there could be a point, but Kluwe hasn’t reached that yet.
“I don’t think that carries over to football. The one thing Chris has been able to do is keep it separate,” Priefer said. “Once it becomes a distraction for our football team, that’s when I’ll step in. I think that’s my job. That’s what I’ve told Coach Frazier what I will do. So far, I don’t think it’s been a distraction to our team. Everybody knows his views. They’re 180 from mine so we don’t agree on anything politically – not that anyone cares about how I feel about politics – but the bottom line is once it becomes a distraction, then we’ll shut it down.”
Kluwe has said in the past that he still puts in his work for punting and can handle the additional exposure and media time.
“We’ve talked about it in the past where Chris can’t be a distraction and he doesn’t want to be. He’s doing what is his God-given American right, to express his views which I don’t have a problem with,” Priefer said. “It’s just when it affects our football team which I don’t think it has so far, once it does it will be shut down.”
Priefer said he doesn’t get into political debates with Kluwe, despite their differences in opinion.
As for his punting, Priefer admitted that Kluwe has been a bit inconsistent lately. While he is ranked among the top five punters in the league for gross and net punting average, there have been a few punts that weren’t struck well and gained healthy yardage on the roll.
“He’s a little bit inconsistent. He’s hit some really nice balls and he’s hit some that, you know, we expect more from him, he expects more from himself,” Priefer said. “I would hope that as we go forward, he’s going to be more consistent and hit the good ball more times than not.”
In addition to Henderson, DE D’Aundre Reed was ruled out of Sunday’s game because of a calf injury sustained in Thursday’s practice.
The Vikings listed seven players as probable, meaning there is a “virtual certainty” they will be available to play. They are C John Sullivan (ankle), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle), CB Chris Cook (biceps), TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), Mitchell (ankle), DE Brian Robison (elbow) and WR Jarius Wright (ankle).
The Vikings will have to make a roster decision next Monday when receiver Jerome Simpson comes off suspension. They will have to release a player to make room for the deep-threat receiver, but it’s uncertain if that cut will come from the receiving corps. On Thursday, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave gave a vote of confidence to Stephen Burton.
“Stephen’s a fantastic athlete. He’s a little bit of our bruiser at wide receiver. He’s not afraid of anybody,” Musgrave said. “The more football he plays, the more awareness, the more experience, the more savvy I think he’ll demonstrate.”
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.