Vikings: A new defensive gut

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- If the nose tackle and middle linebacker represent the gut of a defense, then it's safe to say the Minnesota Vikings have signed themselves up for plastic surgery this season.

(Too much? I liked it. Come on. Lighten up.)

The takeaway from my time with Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on Wednesday morning was that he will have a new starting nose tackle in 2012 and is close to deciding on his next middle linebacker. Fifth-year player Letroy Guion will replace the released Remi Ayodele at nose tackle, while Frazier indicated that Jasper Brinkley is his top choice to start at middle linebacker.

Both players are longtime backups and draft choices of newly promoted general manager Rick Spielman, and their anticipated ascension is a reasonable illustration of how Spielman hopes to run the franchise.

Guion was a fifth-round pick in 2008 and has started three games over four seasons since then. His newly-prominent role became clear when the Vikings signed him to a three-year contract earlier this month that will pay him $2.5 million. Ayodele was subsequently released.

"We want him to be the starting nose tackle," Frazier said.

Brinkley, meanwhile, was a fifth-round pick a year after the Vikings selected Guion. He was the backup to starter E.J. Henderson in 2009 and 2010, starting six games after Henderson's broken leg in 2009, but missed all of 2011 because of a hip injury.

"We believe he is healthy now," Frazier said. "And he has started for us when E.J. was injured in the past. We think he is capable of doing it. We just haven't had him do it for 16 weeks. But we think he's about ready to take that role. We'll determine that in the weeks and months to come."

Doctors have cleared Brinkley for all football activities, and if there was any hesitation in Frazier's response, it should be attributed to the universal NFL caveat at this time of year. The Vikings have 10 draft picks, including seven of the top 138, and a starting-caliber middle linebacker could be a target.

Absent that event, however, the chances seem high that Brinkley will team with Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway to form the Vikings' 2012 trio of linebackers. During that 2009 stretch, Brinkley proved to be a physical run-stopper who is most likely not going to be on the field in nickel situations.

Again, everything could change after the draft. But regardless of the ingredients, it seems likely the Vikings will have a new defensive gut in 2012.