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Camp Preview: Defensive Line Has New Look and Approach

Posted Jul 19, 2014

In the days leading up to 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, vikings.com will take a position-by-position preview of the roster.

The Vikings moved aggressively to overhaul their defense this past offseason, and nowhere is that change more apparent than along the defensive line. Of the 17 linemen the Vikings will bring with them to 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, 10 of them are first-time Vikings. Long-time stalwarts Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are gone, new faces such as Scott Crichton and Linval Joseph have arrived, and several returning players will take on more prominent roles, including Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen.

Personnel is not the only change the Vikings defensive front is experiencing in 2014, though. The group will use a new approach, as well. Previously, players such Allen, fellow end Brian Robison and Williams would play upwards of 80% of the defensive snaps. With new head coach Mike Zimmer’s defense, expect more of a rotation to be used. Zimmer’s defense will also ask players to be more versatile. Robison may stand up, Griffen may slide inside, there will be snaps with just three down linemen instead of four, etc.

The starting defensive end spots are Griffen’s and Robison’s to lose. But don’t expect that to happen. They are both veteran Vikings, with Robison still in his prime and outstanding against both the pass and the run, and with Griffen’s confidence boosted by the big contract he signed. There will be great competition behind the starters for roster spots, though. Crichton, selected in the third round last May, and Corey Wootton, signed via free agency this past offseason, figure to get a big shot at earning prominent roles in the rotation. After those two, returning Vikings Spencer Nealy and Justin Trattou will battle with new Vikings Rakim Cox, Tyler Scott and Jake Snyder for positioning on the depth chart.

At tackle, it seems Floyd and Linval Joseph are the favorites to start. Floyd enters his second year with the Vikings and is poised for a breakout campaign after flashing as a rookie. Joseph stands at 6-4, 323 pounds and will be a space-eating, two-gap run stuffer who can occupy blockers to allow others to chase and tackle; Joseph can also penetrate to push the pocket on passing downs. Behind those two, nine-year veteran Fred Evans and Chase Baker are the returning member of the line. Evans is solid and the team knows what it will get from him, while Baker is still on the rise and will continue developing during camp. The Vikings signed for New Orleans Saints tackle Tom Johnson this spring and they drafted UCONN tackle Shamar Stephen, as well. Two others who will compete for a job are Isame Faciane and Kheeston Randall.

It’s easy to revert to the familiar names to identify likely winners of position battles. That may well turn out to be an accurate way to project it. But don’t be surprised if an unknown name jumps up and makes himself familiar to the coaches. There’s a reason the Vikings have held onto Baker since he joined the club as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and I’m sure the staff is looking forward to a project like Stephen, a 6-5, 310-pound brute who looks to have nimble feet as well as stature and power.

No matter how you slice it, the Vikings defensive line will have a different look and a different approach in 2014. It will all be unveiled in Mankato over the next few weeks.

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