EAGAN, Minn. — The public window of 2022 Vikings Training Camp practices at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center will open July 30 with Back Together Saturday.
To get you ready for the return of football, we're going through a position-by-position preview of the Vikings. We covered the offense last week with quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and offensive line. Up next is Minnesota's defensive line.
View the best photos of Vikings DT Armon Watts from the 2021 season.
Returning starters: Dalvin Tomlinson, Armon Watts
Also on the roster (listed alphabetically by last name): Jonathan Bullard, James Lynch, T.Y. McGill, Esezi Otomewo, Harrison Phillips, T.J. Smith, Tyarise Stevenson, Jullian Taylor, Jaylen Twyman
Editor's note: Because of the Vikings defense switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, some players previously under the defensive line umbrella will be included in Wednesday's outside linebackers group.
2021 recap: With the departure of Michael Pierce in free agency, Tomlinson and Watts are the Vikings only starting linemen who were on last year's roster. Tomlinson started all 16 games he played in 2021, finishing with 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery. Watts started nine of 17 games and recorded 46 tackles, 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and three tackles for loss. Lynch played in 13 games of his sophomore season, including starting the Vikings Week 17 contest. He totaled 30 tackles, 1.0 sack, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Smith was elevated from Minnesota's practice squad to the active roster in Week 12. McGill was elevated from the practice squad twice after joining the Vikings last November.
3 Key Questions for the Vikings Defensive Line
1. What impact does Tomlinson make in 3-4 defense?
When Tomlinson signed with the Vikings after starting his career with the Giants, he adapted to a 4-3 front under Head Coach Mike Zimmer after playing in a 3-4 from 2018-20 in New York. Now, he'll be switching back.
New Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has said Minnesota's defense will be multiple but be anchored in a base 3-4.
Donatell said this spring he's excited about Tomlinson's role.
"You know, they were dabbling with some odd [front] stuff [last year], but he's an inherently tough inside player," Donatell said. "So he's going to be an advantage for any scheme. He fits well."
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Tomlinson's experience with a 3-4 defense goes back to his days at Alabama, and he's been able to help some of his teammates transition to a different system.
"Even the smallest thing like your stance – you have to change that, because you're playing blocks differently," Tomlinson told the Star Tribune's Andrew Krammer in June. "You have to use a little bit more power than hitting gaps and stuff like that. You have to be ready to take on those bend blocks and those double teams a lot more on the inside."
Tomlinson's knowledge of the base system will certainly benefit Donatell and the Vikings defense in the transition.
2. How does Harrison Phillips bolster Minnesota's defense?
The Vikings brought in a proven lineman when they signed Phillips as a free agent.
Phillips, who spent his first four seasons in Buffalo, has played 26 regular-season games for the Bills over the past two seasons, making 11 starts. He also has experience in a 3-4 thanks to his collegiate career at Stanford.
Tomlinson credited Phillips as a "smart football player … who brings a lot to the front," and Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah explained their desire to add Phillips to the group.
"Harrison is someone we identified very early in this," Adofo-Mensah said in March. "He's someone we thought would be foundational to our new 3-4. Disruptive in both phases, the run and the pass, a really incredible player, and we're so happy to have him."
Last year for the Bills, Phillips recorded 51 tackles 1.0 sack, a pass defensed and four tackles for loss.
Phillips signed with Minnesota the same day as free agent linebacker Jordan Hicks, with whom he shared a passion for the adventure in Vikings Purple.
"We can't wait to find out how we can make an impact and make them better. Talking with Coach Donatell and [defensive line coach Chris Rumph], everyone's excited about the new wave of defense that we have and the versatility to attack that," Phillips said.
"I'll be a true-zero, head-up on a center right there on his face. I can shade. I'll be a 2-I, 3-technique on third-down situations. I like that, getting to feel up and down the line," he explained. "This is a matchup league; you try to find those matchups."
3. Will fresh faces seize opportunity?
As noted earlier, a number of players in the Vikings defensive line room haven't built much of a résumé, meaning there's plenty of room to shine.
One player to pay attention to is Twyman, who is returning to action this season after being wounded in a shooting last summer. Recovery is going well for the 2021 draft pick, who said he's "stronger than ever" and ready to help the team.
McGill and Smith didn't have much opportunity to contribute last season, but both have previous NFL experience that could benefit them as they try to make an impression during training camp.
And University of Minnesota fans are quite familiar with the Vikings fifth-round draft pick, Esezi Otomewo. He was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2021 and received an invite to the 2022 Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
Vikings Assistant Director of College Scouting Pat Roberts noted that Otomewo has position flexibility, which the 23-year-old is looking forward to showcasing.
"I played from 5-tech[nique] all the way down to 3- and then 2-I. I'd say my coaches at Minnesota put me in a really good position by playing a lot of different positions," Otomewo said. "Going from bear front to odd front to even front, to a 4-3 look or 3-4 look.
"We did a lot of sub packages where I was lined up everywhere. Doing that for the Vikings would be amazing, too," he added. "Wherever they need me is where I'll be at. I'm excited to learn and contribute."