Monday Morning Mailbag: Interior D-Line Depth, Zylstra in Year Two, More

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Who will be the interior defensive linemen on 3rd and long most often?
-- Alexa Johnson
Minneapolis, MN

That is the type of question the Vikings coaching staff is in the process of figuring out right now during Organized Team Activities and the quest for that answer is probably something that will continue into training camp and perhaps even evolve during the season. Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen give the Vikings a great tandem when it comes to run defense, but 3rd and long is about pressuring the passer and that means one or two other linemen, such as Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson and/or Hercules Mata’afa or rookie Armon Watts, could get into the mix. Another option is to use three defensive ends (Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter AND Stephen Weatherly, as an example) on passing downs by kicking one of them inside as a three technique.

Do you think that the Vikings could use Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the outside and have Irv Smith and Kyle Rudolph on the inside for a red zone threat?
-- Eli Polonus

Yes. That’s a lineup that makes a lot of sense. But the best way to increase scoring efficiency in the red zone is to run the ball. The defense has less ground to cover in the passing game in the red zone, so being able to run the ball efficiently is a good way to put added stress on a defense when you get close to the goal line.

I know we have Dalvin Cook and we just picked up Alexander Mattison in the draft, but is there any chance Ameer Abdullah gets to run the ball some this year?
-- Nick North
Virginia

Abdullah is a bit of a dark horse on the roster, so this is an interesting question. He provides great value on special teams, including as a kickoff returner, and he is also a good pass catcher. With his wide-ranging skill set, he stands a good chance to make the roster and, therefore, has a good chance to contribute as a ball carrier, too. Make no mistake, though, the primary ball carriers on offense will be Cook and, most likely, Mattison.

Last year, Brandon Zylstra had some buzz about his size and catching range and hands. I noticed you did not include him in your list of possible WR3 candidates last week. Was that just a simple oversight or do you think the ones mentioned are already up on him?
-- Rod Moore
Vinton, IA

It was an oversight to not mention him as a WR3 candidate in the Mailbag. We did mention him in the Pick 6, though. To me, the interesting angle for Zylstra is where he can help on special teams. We often times look at wide receivers as being able to help on special teams as returners. But with Zylstra’s physicality and toughness, he may be able to help covering kicks and punts, which gives him a leg up over some other receivers potentially. The wide receiver position is going to be a fun one to watch because the depth is good and there are some new faces to go along with some returning members of the position group.

Do you think the Vikings need to have the big bruiser back of at least 250 pounds to get the ball through the line during short-yardage situations at the goal line? I like CJ Ham because of his consistency and he always seems to be ready to play; he fills the fullback role very well. But it seems like we just don’t have that big, tough power runner to punch it through when we need it. I was sorry to see Latavius Murray leave because he seemed to be the bigger, more powerful back with good speed that the Vikings needed.
-- Rey Johnson
Montrose, MN

Murray was indeed good in this area, although he wasn’t 250 pounds (he is listed as 230). Being able to be a physical runner who can be productive in short-yardage situations is not about weight. It’s about technique, attitude and blocking. Dalvin Cook is a very good runner between the tackles and in short-yardage situations, and I also believe Mattison will be good in those situations, as well, just as he was at Boise State. While it’s never good to see a player and person of Murray’s caliber leave the locker room, the good news is the Vikings have great talent and depth at running back and I don’t think finding a suitable short-yardage ball carrier will be a problem in 2019.

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