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Depth Charge: Vikings Appear Deep On Defense

Posted Aug 20, 2010

Vikings assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said on Thursday that this year’s Vikings defense has the best depth he’s seen so far during his tenure with the team. In a game as violent as football, depth is essential to sustaining success, so hearing Frazier’s comment about the Vikings depth on defense should be encouraging for Vikings fans.

Operating under the assumption that both CB Cedric Griffin (knee) and LB E.J. Henderson (leg) will make it back to the starting lineup this season (at this point they are both trending that way), the Vikings will return all 11 starters and several key reserves in 2010. That has allowed the Vikings to fortify the defensive roster by adding quality players via free agency (Lito Sheppard) and the draft (Chris Cook).

The end result? Quality depth up and down the defensive roster. As Frazier also said on Thursday, the key now is staying healthy and playing together.

Let’s take a look at a few players who are currently providing the Vikings with solid depth on defense…

Defensive End
Starters: Jared Allen and Ray Edwards
Key Reserve: Brian Robison
Other Reserves: Everson Griffen, Jayme Mitchell

Robison is an explosive pass rusher who can come off the edge and beat OTs to get to the QB. But he’s also a stout player who can battle inside, which allows the Vikings to play him inside on some 3rd downs. Whether he’s subbing for Allen or Edwards with an outside pass rush or sliding inside on obvious 3rd down passing situations, Robison is a key element to the Vikings defensive line rotation.

Defensive Tackle
Starters: Kevin Williams, Pat Williams
Key Reserves: Letroy Guion, Jimmy Kennedy

The Vikings re-signed Kennedy this past offseason because he provides a solid option in the DT rotation. But the player to watch here is Guion, who’s had a great training camp and then played well last weekend against St. Louis. Guion has been with the Vikings since 2008 as a developmental prospect, but things seem to be clicking for him now. If Guion continues to trend upwards, he and Kennedy help provide the Vikings with a strong rotation at DT.

Middle Linebacker
Starter: E.J. Henderson
Key Reserve: Jasper Brinkley

Brinkley stepped in capably for Henderson last year at middle LB as the Vikings made a deep playoff run and it’s yet to be determined if Brinkley will again fill Henderson’s shoes once the regular season begins. Henderson has been aggressive in his rehab and his progress is encouraging, but the Vikings must have a backup plan in the event Henderson is unable to play right away. And the backup plan is a good one. Brinkley has also had a great training camp. He continues to play well against the run and it’s my estimation that he’s improved against the pass.

Cornerback
Starter:  Cedric Griffin
Key Reserves: Asher Allen, Chris Cook, Benny Sapp, Lito Sheppard

There are a lot of key reserves listed for just 1 starter, but at this point it’s not clear who will step in for Griffin should he be unable to play when the season begins. My sense is Sheppard will be the guy, but Frazier has rotated players in and out of the starting CB spot opposite Antoine Winfield, so perhaps that role hasn’t been determined yet. Any way it shakes out, the Vikings should have confidence in whoever occupies that spot, be it Griffin or one of the key reserves, when Week 1 rolls around.

Safety
Starters: Tyrell Johnson, Madieu Williams
Key Reserve: Jamarca Sanford

We’ve heard both Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress and Frazier explain that the Vikings safety positions are interchangeable. If that’s the case again this year, the Vikings will have quality depth behind both Johnson and Williams should either player sustain an injury or a drop-off in production. Sanford saw his playing time progressively increase during his rookie season in 2009, even to the point where he started a game during the home stretch of the season. Sanford and Johnson have been rotating in and out of the 1st team defense during training camp, so any way it shakes out the Vikings will have a solid player backing up a starter at both safety positions.