A Bit of a Bad Sign for a Young Vikings Defender

Training Camp Report Dates
Jun 11, 2019; Eagan, MN, USA; A Minnesota Vikings helmet sits on the field at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, what isn’t said can be as illuminating as what is said. As a result, Kevin O’Connell’s recent discussion of Minnesota’s defense is noteworthy, especially when it comes to a young Vikings defender.

At the Annual League Meeting, Minnesota’s head coach responded to a question about the defensive additions. The conversation comes around to linebacker, where O’Connell noted that he “really did value” Jordan Hicks. But then things shift to what O’Connell is looking forward to seeing at linebacker: “Some speed and some really impactful play at the second level with Blake Cashman next to [Ivan Pace]; we really feel good about that combination.” Notably, Brian Asamoah doesn’t get mentioned as part of this answer.

Brian Asamoah, A Young Vikings Defender, is Battling for His Role

In fairness, O’Connell was asked about Brian Flores influencing the offseason decisions. Maybe that simple fact alone defuses some of the point since O’Connell was mostly discussing new players, not necessarily the ones who are already in house.

Plus, O’Connell moves onto a more general discussion of what he’s hoping to see from the team’s youthful defensive talent. “I think the development of certain players that,” O’Connell explains, “I know I’ve challenged the coaching staff. I want to try to find the best possible avenues to develop some of these players, young guys we’ve brought into this organization, either in ’22 or ’23, in addition to what we continue to try to do from a draft and free agency standpoint.”

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell greets safety Theo Jackson (25) before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The final chapter hasn’t been written for Mr. Asamoah and by no means is he being outright dismissed as possibility to snag meaningful snaps in Minnesota. Nevertheless, the broader point still stands: the plan is to move ahead with Cashman and Pace as the locked-in starters at linebacker.

In the modern NFL, a pair of off-ball linebackers is usually what’s necessary. Playing nickel is basically the new base defense, especially since Minnesota has such promising, versatile talent at safety. Josh Metellus and/or Harrison Smith can get dropped into the box if there’s a desire for more of a three-linebacker defensive look.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) pressures Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) during first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Where does that leave Brian Asamoah? The athletic defender is still only 24 and was chosen 66th in the first draft with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in charge. The issue is one we’ve discussed recently on PurplePTSD.

Moving on from Eric Kendricks last offseason was supposed to result in Asamoah snagging a starting spot. Instead, the sophomore linebacker saw his snaps decrease, dropping down to just 36 after picking up 119 as a rookie. And, crucially, that’s even within the context of Hicks missing four games due to a trip to the IR. Ivan Pace stole a job, yes, but Troy Dye also leapfrogged Asamoah.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, the mere observation that Blake Cashman is higher on the depth chart isn’t a shock. The veteran landed a 3-year commitment from Minnesota that promises to send along $22.5 million. So, starter money (the money always tells the truth in the NFL).

And then anyone who watched Pace play knows that he’s not relinquishing his starter’s job unless there’s a major sophomore slump.

The words from Kevin O’Connell simply act as a further bit of corroborating evidence that Asamoah is being looked at as a backup. What’s still undecided is whether he’ll be the LB3 or if he’ll be further down in the hierarchy. After all, the Vikings also signed Kamu Grugier-Hill, someone who has played in 115 NFL games while starting 42.

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

Maybe the detail is irrelevant, but Grugier-Hill has a very similar build to Asamoah. The veteran stands at 6’2″ and weighs 220 pounds; the soon-to-be third-year player stands at 6’2″ and weighs 226 pounds. Both are undersized for playing linebacker in the NFL and yet both are being tasked with doing precisely that, largely because the modern game is leaning more toward dynamic speed than bruising brawn.

Is there any sense that Grugier-Hill is the Asamoah replacement? Or, perhaps, is he going to be leaned on as a veteran mentor?

Finally, we think of the 2024 NFL Draft. The Vikings own nine draft picks. Most think that a QB is getting picked high, but then there are seven Day 3 picks to run through. Don’t be surprised to see Minnesota ratchet up the competition a bit more by bringing in another linebacker to compete for a roster spot.

Brian Asamoah is a talented football player, but he has a lot of work ahead of him as he tries to both secure his roster spot and carve out a large role in Flores’ defense.

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.