EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings have Pro Bowlers at all three levels of their defense, a feat that not many teams can boast.
Yet as Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman recently spoke with Vikings.com, he mentioned a few players at a usually unheralded position that he's excited about keeping tabs on in training camp.
The 2016 Verizon Vikings Training Camp begins Friday in Mankato, and Minnesota's big men up front on the defensive line will likely play a pivotal role this season.
Spielman said the strong play of nose tackle Linval Joseph, ranked by players' votes at 76th in the NFL Top 100 of 2016helped the Vikings allow the fifth-fewest points in the league in 2015.
Joseph played 12 games in his second season with the Vikings, finishing with 71 tackles (43 solo), eight tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hurries and one-half sack.
"The man in the middle, the guy who anchors the whole defense, Linval Joseph, is probably the best nose tackle against the run," Spielman said. "They cannot move him off the ball. You watch tape on him and you see teams double-teaming and triple-teaming him, and he has the ability to hold the point.
"He has great instincts off blocks to locate the ball. He can also, for a big man, get push in the pocket as a pass rusher," Spielman added. "He's not going to be that slippery and finesse type rusher, but he's going to use his power and strength to collapse blockers into the quarterback's lap and create havoc."
Joseph will have some help in the trenches from a player who missed the majority of last season due to an injury.
View the best images of the defensive linemen from the Vikings' offsesaon program.
Spielman said the return of defensive tackle Shamar Stephen will give a boost to an already strong unit.
"He also has the ability to hold the point of the run as a nose tackle but also has some significant in-line pass rusher ability," Spielman said of the 6-foot-5 Stephen. "He played very well as a rookie but by missing last year he was able to learn and watch.
"You can really see the strides he's taken through the offseason by having that year off and getting an opportunity to watch how Linval Joseph plays the position," he added.
A pair of returners who played well last season will line up next to Joseph and Stephen.
Sharrif Floyd tallied 37 tackles and 2.5 sacks while fellow defensive tackle Tom Johnson ranked third on the team with 5.5 sacks, specializing in a role as a nickel rusher from a defensive tackle spot and filling in for Floyd.
Floyd missed three games last season due to an injury but Spielman said he's excited to see what Floyd will do in Mankato.
"Sharrif Floyd has had the injury bug a bit but is a tremendous athlete," Spielman said. "He is our under tackle and not only has to be able to hold the point against the run, but be an inside pass rusher.
"With the combination of him and Tom Johnson, who replaced him last year when he was injured, we feel we have two really good in-line pass rushers," he added.