EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got an early summer glimpse of something they definitely don't want to see come fall.
Strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway, their leading tackler the past five seasons, missed Tuesday's organized team activities and will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday. He'll miss the rest of this week's OTAs and next week's three-day minicamp but is expected to be ready in time for the start of training camp in late July.
"He had a little tension in his knee," said coach Leslie Frazier, who called the surgery "minor." Frazier added, "Just some tenderness in the knee. And we ended up doing an MRI and saw some things in there that we thought we needed to go in and clean up. And that's what we're going to do."
Greenway has until July 26 before the start of training camp practices. But the sight of an already distressingly thin linebacker corps missing its only established starter wasn't pretty, even in mid-June.
With Greenway, 30, sidelined, special teams ace Larry Dean ran with the first team at strong-side linebacker. Middle linebacker was manned by Erin Henderson, who has been moved from the weak side. And the weak side was handled by Marvin Mitchell, a journeyman who has four starts in six NFL seasons.
Dean is an undersized, undrafted third-year pro who shocked everybody by making the team out of Valdosta State in 2011. He's a great story and an instinctive special teams player, but not someone the Vikings want on the field on defense.
Henderson became the middle linebacker by default when the Vikings failed to address a major need via free agency or the draft. Henderson has shown promise as a weak-side linebacker since becoming the starter in 2011, but was prone to making mental blunders because he doesn't always play within the scheme. He has experience playing middle linebacker in the nickel but has never been an every-down middle linebacker in the NFL.
Mitchell started two games last year when Henderson suffered a concussion. He's a decent backup but not a player the Vikings would want to plug in for long stretches. With Greenway out, Mitchell joined Henderson in the nickel defense on Tuesday. That's also not a good sight for the Vikings.
Greenway was the Vikings' first-round draft pick in 2006. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament covering the opening kickoff in his first preseason game. But after missing the entire 2006 season, Greenway has gotten consistently better each season. Now a Pro Bowl-caliber, every-down starter, he's a sure tackler who can cover tight ends and play deep middle in the dime. He also understands perfectly his role in the team's defensive schemes.
Although the Vikings have bigger names that get bigger headlines nationally, losing Greenway for an extended period probably would sink the team's playoff chances. Although it was just a quiet OTA in the middle of June, one couldn't help but think about that while watching Larry Dean play the role of Chad Greenway.