Do the Vikings Shave their LB Room Down to the Bare Minimum?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past little bit, I’ve been unveiling a position-by-position roster projection for the Vikings. As the focus shifts to defense, we come around to linebacker. Do the Vikings shave things down to the minimum at this spot?

Right now, there is a ton of optimism surrounding Ivan Pace Jr. The soon-to-be sophomore was excellent as a rookie even though he was an undrafted free agent. Toss in the addition of Blake Cashman as a free agent and there’s some optimism about where things are heading at linebacker. How many players get kept at this spot? Would they roll with just three players at linebacker?

Do the Vikings Shave their LB Room Down to Three Players?

Leave it to leaders like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Kevin O’Connell, and Brian Flores to do something unconventional. Consider who they’re working with as training camp approaches:

LB1: Blake Cashman
LB2: Ivan Pace
LB3: Kamu Grugier-Hill
LB4: Brian Asamoah
LB5: Abraham Beauplan
LB6: K.J. Cloyd
LB7: Dallas Gant

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) celebrates his sack with linebacker Troy Dye (45) against the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Notice the small detail hiding in plain sight? Not a single linebacker exists from the Mike Zimmer era. Last year, Anthony Barr, Troy Dye, and Nick Vigil were hanging around but none of them are back (at least not yet). The end result is a position group that’s fully Adofo-Mensah’s as the GM moves into Year 3 of steering the ship.

Cashman and Pace are going to be the starters. Basically the only thing that looks capable of disrupting that basic fact is injury. Of course, Pace could be headed for a sophomore slump in the same way that Ryan Wright struggled after a super impressive rookie season, but the linebacker deserves the benefit of the doubt. He has done nothing but impress.

Cashman, meanwhile, may make the pass coverage a decent bit better. Last season, the man allowed 69.1% of passes into his coverage to be completed but he contained pass catchers to just 6.9 yards per completion. That’s a notable step ahead of Jordan Hicks, who was down at an 81% completion rate alongside and 8.8 yards-per-catch average.

Cashman is stepping into Year 1 of a three-year commitment that’s coming in at $22.5 million in total money. Starter money.

Dec 17, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (54) is introduced before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Kamu Grugier-Hill can’t be overlooked. He’s built like a large safety, standing at 6’2″ and weighing 220 pounds. He has 115 games of NFL experience and has started 42. He’s unlikely to be a starter but seeing him around 300-500 defensive snaps wouldn’t be surprising, especially if one of the top two need to spend some time in the infirmary.

Battling with Grugier-Hill — and for a roster spot more broadly — is Brian Asamoah. The word is that he has been demoted in favor of the veteran.

The 66th pick in 2022 has been a disappointment. His rookie season involved LB3 duties behind Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. What made his 2023 so discouraging isn’t that he lost the starting job to Pace. Rather, it’s that he got placed behind Troy Dye on the depth chart. The switch to Brian Flores didn’t go perfectly for Mr. Asamoah, only picking up 36 defensive snaps. He has never started a game in his career, but he has gotten in on 29 contests since being drafted.

3 Young Vikings Defenders Whose Roles Could Increase in 2023
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) leaps over the celebration pile late during the fourth quarter after an interception by safety Camryn Bynum (24) off New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) sealed the victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The possibility exists that Minnesota does something funky at linebacker by opting for just three players while looking to stash two or three LBs on the practice squad. If that happens, I won’t be surprised.

But even while that’s possible, let me instead suggest that four linebackers get onto the final team. Cashman, Pace, Grugier-Hill, and Asamoah make it. The first two guys are the starters and the final two guys are stalwarts on specials.

By the end of the ’24 season, the fast and physical Asamoah is going to be picking up snaps with regularity on defense.

Before training camp arrives, I’ll be doing a position-by-position roster projection in an effort to understand what the final 53-man roster could look like. Once training camp and the preseason unfold, we can swing back around to the projections to see about any adjustments. Entries: Quarterback, Running Back, Tight End, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line (Complete Offense), Defensive Line, and Edge Rusher.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.