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Without Jared Allen, we no longer have a guaranteed leader on our defense in sacks. Do you expect Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen or Brian Robison to get more sacks? Or will the numbers be pretty evenly spread throughout all of our top pass rushers? -- Colton M. Burley, ID
Among those three, I'd say it'll be a tight race between Griffen and Robison. More importantly, I expect the sack numbers to be spread out pretty liberally among Vikings front seven defenders. In looking at Mike Zimmer defenses in Cincinnati over the past three seasons, only two players had double-digit sacks in a season and that occurred in the same year – Geno Atkins had 12.5 and Michael Johnson had 11.5 in 2012. Other than that, no pass rusher had more than 7.5 sacks the past three seasons in Cincinnati, yet the Bengals ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 139 sacks since 2011. This is a departure from the Vikings pass rushing setup in recent seasons, where Jared Allen led the club every season and was a double-digit producer every season of his Vikings career. Both styles can work, but my sense is Zimmer will bring his style to Minnesota and it will result in a more balanced sack total among the defenders.
I've noticed that the Vikings have several defensive players (Anthony Barr, Robert Blanton, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen) who can play multiple defensive positions. My question is: Do you see Mike Zimmer moving them around often to keep the opposing offenses off balance? -- John M. Annapolis, MN
Yes, I do see Zimmer switching things up frequently because he has so many versatile players at his disposal. A product of that will (hopefully) be that opposing offenses are off-balance, but the motivation is more about the desire to put those players in positions to succeed. Griffen and Robison have displayed an ability to rush the passer from the defensive tackle position, Blanton stepped in as a cornerback at times last season, Harrison Smith can cover as a ball hawk and also bring the hammer in the run game, and Captain Munnerlyn can handle his business as an outside cornerback and as a slot cornerback. The bottom line is Zimmer is known for getting the most out of his players by putting them in positions to succeed, and with as many talented and versatile players as Zimmer has in Minnesota, it's fair to expect the defense to make a big jump forward this season.
Which current Vikings will benefit the most from the defensive and offensive scheme change? -- Mitch K. Los Angeles, CA
Both the defensive and offensive schemes will put a lot of players in a position to succeed. Two players who come to mind immediately, though, are Xavier Rhodes on defense and Cordarrelle Patterson on offense. I feel Rhodes is at his best when he's allowed to matchup man-to-man and play physical, press coverage, and my sense is Rhodes will have an opportunity to do just that in Zimmer's defense. I say Patterson on offense based on what Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner did with Josh Gordon in Cleveland last season. Just as Patterson is this season, Gordon was in his second NFL season with Turner last season and he led the League with 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns on 87 catches. Gordon's yardage total in 2013 was double what it was his rookie season, and I feel Patterson will have the opportunity to more than double his receiving totals in Turner's offense.
Knowing that the starting safety across from Harrison Smith is open, is draft pick Antoine Exum even in the discussion to possibly start or at least be considered? Where exactly is he in the eyes of the coaches? -- Brian K. Erie, PA
I can't speak for where he is in the eyes of the coaching staff, but I do feel he'll be in the mix for a starting spot if he continues to progress during camp the way he did during the offseason program. Something tells me Zimmer is into competition deciding who plays and he is not into handing out jobs based on past performance or hype. Jamarca Sanford is the incumbent starter, Robert Blanton had a great spring, and players such as Exum, Kurt Coleman and Andrew Sendejo will compete for playing time, as well.
I often hear of "morning walk-throughs" and wonder exactly what happens at a walk-through? -- Mary L. Detroit Lakes, MN
Walk-throughs can serve a variety of purposes, depending on how they are structured and when they are held. I'm sure they vary from team-to-team, but the basic idea is to use them as a teaching tool. Typically, coaches use walk-throughs to deliberately go through what will be executed at practice later that day or to slowly review what was executed in a previous practice. The walk-through gives players a primer or review of practice, and it gives coaches an idea of what they'll need to emphasize and/or reinforce in practice and in meetings. If guys have a tougher time picking up on a concept in walk-through, then they'll have to pay special mind to that concept in practice.