Few Vikings players have turned as many heads in the preseason as Tashawn Bower.
The Vikings rookie defensive end arrived in Minnesota as an undrafted free agent this spring but has impressed teammates and coaches by notching a sack in each of the Vikings first two preseason games.
Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune took a deeper look at how the Vikings evaluate and bring in pass rushers, noting that Bower fit the mold of Danielle Hunter, who was Bower's college teammate at LSU.
*You haven't heard of Bower? Given the Vikings' success with pass rushers, his name might be one you want to learn. He has a pair of sacks this preseason, leading the Vikings and tying him for third most in the NFL. *
He is a 6-5, 250-pound end from Louisiana State, with 33⅜-inch arms and the combine's third-fastest time among defensive ends in the 60-yard shuttle. He was thought to be somewhat raw as a pass rusher, after 3.0 of his 5.5 career college sacks came in his final bowl game, but defensive line coach Andre Patterson began regular contact with him before the draft because he thought there was more to coax out of the 22-year-old.
Sound familiar? Hunter is almost exactly the same size, the same age, from the same school and had 4.5 sacks in three college seasons.
"Him and Danielle are very good friends," Patterson said. "So from my first conversation [with him], he knew who I was. He knew what we had done with Danielle. And at the end of the deal, when it all came down to the end and he's wavering back and forth, when I talked to him on the phone, [it was], 'Hey, you knew what 'D' was at LSU, and you know what he is now. So you know I'm telling you the truth of, if you come here, what we can do for you.' "
Goessling noted that while the Vikings might have the best collection of defensive ends in the league in Everson Griffen, Hunter and Brian Robison, they also have a group of youngsters, including Bower, who are waiting in the wings.
The Vikings also used a seventh-round pick on Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who had a sack on Friday night in Seattle, and have given occasional first-team work to Weatherly after using a seventh-round pick on him a year ago. The process has led to what Patterson called the deepest group of defensive ends since Zimmer's staff arrived in 2014, and it could lead to some difficult decisions during final cuts on Sept. 2.
"You might be able to get them from the third, fourth, fifth [rounds], and sometimes free agency," Patterson said. "Some people are looking at the total number of what the guy did through his career, instead of looking at, 'What kind of skill set does he possess?' "
Cook, Barr could be key for Vikings in 2017
The NFL is full of optimism in the preseason, even for teams that didn't make the postseason the year before.
That includes the Vikings, whom NFL.com reporter Tom Pelissero thinks are in line for a bounce back season.
To be sure, the Vikings have their work cut out to get out of the NFC North, which they've wrested away from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers just once in the past six seasons. Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are coming off their own playoff campaign, taking the spotlight in the division away from Minnesota -- and that may not be a bad thing here.
*Just as the 5-0 start last season covered up some of the flaws that eventually got exposed, the way things fell apart might be obscuring some of the reasons the Vikings are excited about their chances for bouncing back. *
Pelissero said two key reasons for a potentially strong year for Minnesota reside on each side of the ball.
One of them is the Vikings rookie running back.
Dalvin Cook might be special: Ask anyone at Vikings HQ about the upside of this team, and they'll bring up Cook, who slid into the second round of April's draft for reasons that had little to do with his unquestioned explosiveness as a runner. He can make an offensive line look better. The one-time NFL MVP (Adrian) Peterson is gone, but with Cook, ex-Oakland Raider Latavius Murray and third-down back Jerick McKinnon, the NFL's least productive running team a year ago (1,205 yards, 3.2 per carry) has some juice.
Pelissero also said fourth-year linebacker Anthony Barr, who has made two straight Pro Bowls, could be an X-factor.
"I think Barr has had an unbelievable spring, unbelievable training camp," Zimmer told Pelisser