Over the last two weeks we've taken a position-by-position look at the performance and production of the Vikings roster in 2013.
"It all starts up front" is a common axiom in the football world. While the Vikings will surely tinker with their personnel along the defensive line this offseason, Mike Zimmer has a good base with which to work at the front of his new defense as he starts his tenure as head coach.
Most good defenses are able to pressure the passer. The Vikings defensive line, bookended by Jared Allen and Brian Robison at defensive end, was effective in tallying sacks in 2013. Allen tallied 11.5, marking the seventh consecutive season of double-digit sacks for him, and Robison collected a career-high 9.0 and also led the team in quarterback hurries with 40. Pressure from the edge was provided by a third party in the defensive end stable, as third-year pro Everson Griffen registered 5.5 sacks on the season and was third in hurries with 27.
In the middle of the defensive line, the Vikings boast talent that spans from first-round rookie (Sharrif Floyd) to longtime, productive veteran (Kevin Williams). Floyd at times flashed the explosiveness and talent that enticed the Vikings to use their first draft pick of 2013 on him, with over 25% of his tackles going for a loss, including 2.5 sacks. On the other end of the spectrum is Williams, who now ranks first in Vikings history among defensive tackles with 171 starts, is one of 10 Vikings to reach 50+ career sacks and is third in team history among tackles with 60.0 sacks. Old-dog Williams even learned a new trick in 2013, playing nose tackle for the club against Washington and collecting season-highs in tackles (seven) and sacks (2.5) during the effort.
Other contributors for the Vikings at tackle were Fred Evans, who plays a key reserve role for the club, and Letroy Guion, who started 13 games. Youngsters who will work this offseason to earn a more prominent role along the defensive line include ends Spencer Nealy and Justin Trattou and tackle Chase Baker.
Speaking of the offseason, it should be a fairly interesting one for the defensive line as a whole. Robison was recently signed to an extension and remains a key part of the long-term plan, but three of the four most productive defensive linemen are scheduled to hit free agency in a little over a month – Allen, Griffen and Williams. On top of that, the free agent class at end is anticipated to be quite strong and the draft will, as usual, feature a wealth of talent up and down the line.
The Vikings have a solid foundation to their defense thanks to young and in-their-prime players such as Floyd and Robison. But there are also some questions to be answered in the coming months.
On the Roster
DE Jared Allen:56 tackles, 16.0 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, 5 PBUs, 2 FF in 16 games (16 starts)DE Everson Griffen:30 tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF in 16 games (0 starts)DE Brian Robison:43 tackles, 14.0 TFLs, 9.0 sacks, 3 PBUs, 1 FR in 16 games (16 starts)
DE Spencer Nealy:Practice SquadDE Justin Trattou:No stats in 1 game (0 starts)
DT Chase Baker:5 tackles in 5 games (0 starts)DT Fred Evans:21 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, 4 PBUs, 1 FF in 14 games (3 starts)DT Sharrif Floyd:29 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 4 PBUs in 16 games (1 start)DT Letroy Guion:23 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR in 13 games (13 starts)DT Kevin Williams:33 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 6 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 FR in 15 games (15 starts)