Minnesota Vikings: Defensive Preview – Is #1 within Reach
The Minnesota Vikings ranked third in the league in total defense, third against the pass and 20th versus the run. With a glaring weakness against the run, the Vikings took to the draft and free agency to fill some glaring holes.
Minnesota’s first splash signing was getting Datone Jones from their division rival, the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings then kept one of their own, re-signing Terence Newman to a one-year deal. Recently, they jumped back into free agency and sniped defensive tackle, Will Sutton, who the Chicago Bears just released.
In the draft, General Manager, Rick Spielman, and company drafted Jaleel Johnson in the fourth round as a potential replacement for Sharrif Floyd, as well as drafting gritty middle linebacker Ben Gedeon, outside linebacker in Elijah Lee, and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. Though the purple and gold’s front seven may be one of the best in the league, there have been too many lapses in the run game for head coach Mike Zimmer’s liking.
As training camp nears, this defense has questions of their own to answer before the season starts. Will Floyd ever play again? Who will replace him and Chad Greenway if he cannot go? Can Trae Waynes finally win the starting corner position? A few examples of the many questions Minnesota Vikings fans may have entering camp.
Minnesota may very well have the best defensive line and depth behind them in the league if Sharrif Floyd can receive a full bill of health. Hunter and Griffen on the edges have proven to be pass rushing gurus. Meanwhile, the veteran Robison and newly signed Jones can either provide depth on the edge or move inside on pass rushing situations.
Zimmer has to allow Hunter to grow into a starting position. It is something he deserves after the 12.5-sack season in a part-time role on defense. In addition to accumulating six in his rookie season. Brian Robison is usually the stalwart on the end. Hunter makes his move this year into the starting role.
Drafting Jaleel Johnson really helps the pass rushing depth at the tackle position if Floyd cannot play this season. Shamar Stephen would more than likely step into a starting position if so, just do not be surprised if the rookie cuts into his snap count. Will Sutton was a late addition to the team, and could potentially push Tom Johnson out of a job. Minnesota needs an interior pass rush, so if Sutton hopes to make the team, he will need to improve on his zero sacks in three seasons as a Bear.
Jones swings in as a depth move for this Minnesota Vikings defensive line, as well as Tom Johnson. Ifeadi Odenigbo and undrafted free agent Tashawn Bower could find themselves on the practice squad, but it is very unlikely either make the final roster.
Now, this is where things get a bit interesting on defense, and where Minnesota Vikings fans can expect this team to fiddle around with the lineups a bit. Currently, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr fill two starting slots on the second level.
Minnesota drafted Ben Gedeon and Elijah Lee, with Lamur, Robinson, and Brothers already on the roster. Brothers led the Vikings special teams in tackles last year and should expect to find himself in the lineup in some sense. But where exactly?
We could see a combination of the three, with Kendricks and Barr playing the outside positions while Brothers holds down the middle in base packages. Kendricks has elite coverage ability in space and the potential to fill any area. Brothers is a bruiser that is better suited to play the middle, swallow up blocks, shed them and make tackles. Like Brothers, Ben Gedeon is somewhat in the same mold, but will more than likely have to earn his time on special teams.
The wild cards here are Lamur and Elijah Lee. Lee has potential to fill in the role left by the now-retired Chad Greenway immediately if he can be more reliable on run defense. Lamur was a free-agent pickup last year the Vikings expected more out of, but did not receive much in return. Lee may be able to play himself into a role, while Lamur may very well find himself cut if he does not show up in the preseason.
For the love of everything, Mike Zimmer, please give Trae Waynes the opportunity to prove that he was not a wasted first-round pick. Terence Newman is proof that fountain of youth does exist, but there will be a point in time when the effect will wear off. Waynes has to take this job in camp and never look back.
Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith form one of the best secondary combinations in football. Andrew Sendejo, I am not sold on — and neither am I on the possibility of Mackensie Alexander locking down the slot. There were too many dumb penalties and a lack of focus from Alexander in his rookie season. He deserves an opportunity, but Minnesota needs a backup plan if it just does not pan out.
Another debate numerous Vikings fans find themselves having, will Marcus Sherels remain on the roster? Why wouldn’t he be, though? Sherels has been an essential special team player as a punt returner and has been able to step up in the slot on certain situations. The return situation was a disaster when Sherels went down with an injury, as Vikings fans watched Patterson fumble once and then Thielen fumbles a game away against Dallas. All with no one providing any dynamic ability on punt returns. Sherels is a sure catcher with the ability to create field position. The Minnesota Vikings need him on this team.
In addition, another position to pay attention to is the strong safety position next to Harrison Smith. Sendejo should not secure this position, as Jayron Kearse and Anthony Harris could jump into the mix just as easily. Sendejo has not proven to be a viable starter in this league as of yet, forcing Smith to babysit in coverage rather than the team allowing him to be the ball hawk he can be. Kearse has the most potential out of any to be that guy, but whether or not if he can play up to it, is the question.
Editor’s Note: This article can also be seen in our upcoming NFL Preview Edition.