EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Rick Spielman’s admiration of Ted Thompson is well-known, with the Minnesota Vikings front office boss appreciating the way Thompson has built the Green Bay Packers over the years.
Coincidentally, it’s often led to Minnesota — and Spielman since he’s taken control as the team’s general manager — signing former Packers. The list continues with the news that the Vikings have agreed to terms with former Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop on Monday on a reported one-year deal. Bishop follows in the footsteps of Darren Sharper, Ryan Longwell, Brett Favre, and Greg Jennings this year by making the jump across the border.
There’s been a theme for all of the Packers-turned-Vikings, though. They’ve often filled a big need in Minnesota.
Bishop’s arrival immediately should upgrade the Vikings’ linebacker corps. Outside linebacker, or inside if Bishop starts and plays in his most familiar spot, has been open since free agency began and last year’s starter for Minnesota in the middle, Jasper Brinkley, signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
Erin Henderson, who re-signed to stay in Minnesota as a free agent, promptly made the move to the middle. His defiance last week in stating he was the team’s middle linebacker might be more of Henderson’s pride speaking than the Vikings’ coaching staff. Henderson prepared for the move all offseason.
Minnesota said Henderson’s move allowed for the team to get the three best linebackers on the field. If a third starter emerged on the outside — with veteran Marvin Mitchell or rookie Gerald Hodges the most likely candidates — Henderson could stay inside. Henderson took 100 percent of his offseason reps in the middle, but if a worthy starter was found there, Henderson could shift back to the weakside.
The Vikings found someone in Bishop.
Bishop, who turns 29 years old next month, missed all of last season with a torn hamstring that he says is fully healed. He started 25 games the previous two seasons and led Green Bay in tackles in 2011. Signing Bishop means Minnesota feels comfortable enough with his health.
“If training camp was tomorrow, I’d be a full participant,” Bishop told FOX Sports Wisconsin last week.
A healthy Bishop, who was one of the Packers’ top defenders when healthy, would surely start for the Vikings. Bishop played inside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense when he was at his best. The logical conclusion to his coming to Minnesota would be that he would start in the middle, with Henderson moving back outside.
Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams didn’t sound concerned about Bishop’s ability to switch to Minnesota’s 4-3, Cover-2 defense, though reports are that Bishop’s struggles come in pass coverage.
“It’s not rocket science,” Williams said. “It’s football and it’s still about running to the ball, tackling and reading your keys and making plays when the ball comes to you. I don’t think it’s a big adjustment.”
Williams wouldn’t say if Bishop was versatile enough to play outside. But Frazier and Williams both spoke highly of Henderson’s move to the middle. Were they remaining committed to Henderson because a Bishop signing was still unknown?
Bishop worked out last week with the Vikings and ended up leaving town and visiting the Kansas City Chiefs. A starting spot in Kansas City would have meant Bishop staying in his usual spot, inside in a 3-4 defense. So, why come to Minnesota if he’s being asked to make a position switch?
Despite Henderson’s reluctance — and reports surfaced Monday that Bishop would be tested in the middle and outside for the Vikings — the most likely scenario would have Bishop in the middle and Henderson on the outside. Henderson, who’s been preparing for calling the defensive plays in the middle, could still be the player with the earpiece to the coaches and be the nickel linebacker along with Chad Greenway.
Regardless of where they line up, Bishop’s arrival immediately upgrades Minnesota’s starting linebackers in the base defense and answers, likely, the final starting spot that was up for grabs as the Vikings head to training camp in late July. Waiting until June wasn’t the optimal process, but Minnesota had to do something to clarify its linebacker situation.
Falling into a former starter, a former 100-plus tackle performer and a player that might be motivated playing in the NFC North against the reigning division champions was a convenient alternative. Mitchell returns to his more natural backup and special teams’ roles. Hodges is given time to develop and Minnesota finally has three linebackers it believes it can trust. If Bishop returns near his 2011 level, the Vikings might have their best set of linebackers in several years.
There’s been another theme for all those ex-Packers in Minnesota. Most of them have had success with the Vikings. Will Bishop — and Jennings — thrive in purple?