Lunch Break

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Lunchbreak: Vikings Want to Be NFL's Best Defense

Posted Aug 8, 2017

Of the six players the Vikings sent to the Pro Bowl in 2016, five were on the defensive side of the ball.

The list included defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith — all of whom are back in Purple this season. 

Yet as the Vikings defense prepares for the 2017 season, the group is more concerned with team success than individual accolades.

Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press recently wrote that the Vikings are focused on having the top defense in the NFL.

Tomasson wrote:

The Vikings were third in the NFL in total defense and sixth in scoring defense, and would have been higher if not for a late- season swoon.

This year, they’re shooting for No. 1 in both categories.

“That’s what we’re going for,” defensive end Danielle Hunter said. “You got to want to be the No. 1 defense.”

The Vikings have had strong defenses often throughout their history, ranging from the dominance of the Purple People Eaters to menacing teams in the early 1990s.

The Vikings haven’t been No. 1 in total defense since 1993, and haven’t been tops in scoring defense since 1971. They were No. 1 in both categories in 1969 and 1970 during the “Purple People Eaters” era.

(Defensive tackle Tom) Johnson knows his history, so he’s not about to say this defense is better than the ones Minnesota had back then. Still, Johnson does offer this.

“I think that we’re going to be the best defense that this organization of this era has seen,” he said.

Elflein working on improving pre-snap calls

One of the most intriguing position battles at Verizon Vikings Training Camp as been at center, where Nick Easton and rookie Pat Elflein are vying for the starting spot.

While it remains to be seen which player wins the job, Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com recently wrote an in-depth piece on Elflein and how the former Ohio State standout looks primed for a long career in the NFL.

Coller wrote that one of the areas in which the Vikings will be evaluating Elflein is his pre-snap recognition and calls on switching protection schemes.

Coller wrote:

The Vikings aren’t handing their third-round pick a starting gig. He’s going to have to beat out Nick Easton, a Harvard grad who started five games last year. The two have switched in and out nearly every day in Mankato and each has occasionally seen time at guard.

Whether Elflein starts from Day 1 will depend on how quickly he adapts. And that applies to all sorts of areas. Head Coach Mike Zimmer talked about his rookie getting quicker with calls.

“He’s pretty sharp at it,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes he tries to change it too late in the down, and it messes up everybody else. He’s just gotta make sure that once he makes it, we go and live with it.”

Coller talked to multiple people within the Vikings organization about Elflein. That included linebacker Ben Gedeon, who played against Elflein at Ohio State, and Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson, whose linemen regularly go up against the rookie. 

While Elflein’s career is just getting going, it appears Elflein is off to a good start as he tries to become a memorable Vikings center, a list that includes Matt Birk, Jeff Christy or John Sullivan. 

Whether he starts against the New Orleans Saints on September 11 does not have a bearing on where the Vikings believe Elflein can be long term, which is on the level of Birk, Christy or Sullivan. It’s just a matter of how long it will take for him to get there.

“The thing I can say from watching him: He looks like he belongs,” Patterson said.