Vikings taking long look at LBs before draft

MINNEAPOLIS -- During an offseason full of moves to improve the first and third levels of their defense, the Minnesota Vikings have left their linebacking group largely unchanged. The team brought back Jasper Brinkley after letting him leave in free agency a year earlier, but five of the seven linebackers presently on the Vikings' roster were also there last year. It seemed obvious they needed to improve at the position, but considering how thin the free agent linebacker class was, it was always more likely the Vikings would address the position in the draft.

Based on how they're setting up their top-30 prospects event for Wednesday and Thursday, the Vikings certainly seem to be doing their homework on linebackers. Louisville linebacker Preston Brown said he will attend the event, and two league sources said UCLA's Anthony Barr and Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence will also be there. Additionally, NFL.com reported that Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack -- who could be drafted well before the Vikings make the eighth pick in next month's draft -- will travel to the Twin Cities for the event, as well.

General manager Rick Spielman said last month he feels good about some of the young linebackers the Vikings already have, and Audie Cole might have played his way into contention for a starting spot based on how he did at the end of last year. Michael Mauti is more than a year removed from knee surgery, and could push for a starting spot at either middle or outside linebacker. But with Chad Greenway at age 31, having renegotiated his contract and due to become a free agent after 2015, the Vikings need to get some things in place for their future at the position. They could especially use an active, physical linebacker who could cast an imposing presence in Mike Zimmer's defense, and all of the linebackers we know the Vikings are bringing in for pre-draft visits would fit that profile.

It's always dangerous to assume the Vikings' top-30 event reveals anything definitive about the team's pre-draft thinking, since teams have so many other avenues to talk with and evaluate prospects before the draft. But as purposefully as the Vikings have addressed their defensive needs this offseason, they've left themselves some work to do at linebacker. If nothing else, their top-30 event could hint at the strategy they plan to use to improve the position.