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3 Expert Takes: State of the Vikings Defense

The Vikings Entertainment Network headed to the West Coast to visit NFL Network.

Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall caught up with multiple NFL Media analysts to discuss the state of the team and the division.

The Vikings voluntary offseason program is scheduled to open on April 16 at sparkling new Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and the NFL Draft will be held April 26-28.

Understandably, much has been made* *of the Vikings signing Kirk Cousins at the onset of free agency, but Minnesota also made a splash on defense when it announced the signing of Sheldon Richardson a day later.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer is preparing for his fifth season at the helm, and the Vikings have totaled 40 victories (including a playoff win in January) in his first four seasons. The defense rose from one of the league's statistical worsts prior to Zimmer's arrival and led the NFL in yards allowed and points allowed in 2017.

NFL Network's James Jones, who spent most of his career with Green Bay, is more than familiar — and impressed by — Zimmer's defense. Jones played against a Zimmer defense four times (twice when Zimmer was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator and twice in the 2015 Border Battles between the Vikings and Packers).

Jones had a significant role (six catches, 109 yards, one touchdown) in the Packers victory on Nov. 22, 2015, but the Packers lost the other three contests. He totaled six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Bengals (2009 and 2013) and had four catches for 102 yards on Jan. 3, 2016 when Minnesota prevailed 20-13 to win its first division title under Zimmer.

"Zim' is a heck of a coach. The Minnesota Vikings have a great coach," Jones said. "When we used to play Cincinnati, he used to give us so many problems. … Zimmer always had some crazy, exotic looks for us that we had never seen before.

"It gave Aaron Rodgers some trouble, gave us some trouble on the perimeter," Jones added. "He plays Aaron Rodgers and Coach [Mike] McCarthy well. That's the thing you love about football, it's a chess match, especially when you're going up against a guy so much. You love competing against him."

The Vikings have been able to disrupt quarterbacks in a variety of ways in Zimmer's scheme, including from the edge and interior of the defensive line, as well as with blitzes by linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks or safety Harrison Smith.

The addition of Richardson is expected to supply Zimmer with yet another significant disruptor.

NFL Network Up to the Minute host Andrew Siciliano said simply adding Richardson "is a great offseason for any team."

"We're talking about a legitimate Pro Bowler – a first-round pick who, a couple of years ago, the idea of Sheldon Richardson being on a new team other than the Jets would have been just ridiculous," Siciliano said.

Richardson was selected by the Jets in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft (13th overall). He started 56 of 58 games for the Jets, totaling 18 sacks from their 3-4 front, before adjusting to Seattle's 4-3 base in 2017.

"He proved that he's a team guy last year in Seattle, and I have no doubt that he will do the same with the Vikings," Siciliano added. "And when you take a No. 1 defense and add a guy with his talent, I mean, he has game-changing talent – he wasn't just a guy who was picked in the first round that got a nice contract – he has game-changing talent. For Mike Zimmer, for [Vikings Defensive Coordinator] George Edwards, that is a heck of a new toy to play with."

The approaching draft means the Vikings have more opportunities to add to their roster by the end of the month. The Vikings are scheduled to have eight selections, including the 30th overall pick.

Wobschall asked NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks how the Vikings might continue to fortify their defense.

"It's funny, there's so many different guys and so many directions you can go when you look at the Vikings," Brooks said. "Yeah, they could add another linebacker. A guy that's been buzzing and kind of mocked to the Vikings has been Lorenzo Carter. He's similar to Anthony Barr in terms of his versatility. He's a guy that's lined up off the edge and can play off the ball as a linebacker. He brings some unique things to the position.

"If they go a little deeper, a guy like Darius Leonard, who can play inside and do some things, is from South Carolina State," Brooks said. "There are a ton of guys that can certainly help that defensive front."

Brooks also mentioned N.C. State's B.J. Hill and Michigan's Maurice Hurst as possible additions to the interior of the defensive line.

"I know the [Vikings] just signed Sheldon Richardson, and that's a one-year play, maybe it ends up being a longer thing, but if you need to find another defensive tackle that can fortify upfront, you have Hurst and some other guys."

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