On Sunday, the Vikings held their first padded practice of 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. This was a significant event on many levels, with one of them being it's the first time since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach that linemen could be truly evaluated.
For the entire offseason program and for the first two days of training camp, restrictions on contact and pads made it difficult to get an accurate gauge for how the men in the trenches were performing. Yes, coaches could hone in on assignments and technique, but there's no replacement for good, old fashioned pad-crunching action.
With just one day in pads complete, we don't yet know how the defensive line competition will shake out. But because of something Zimmer said late last week, we do know what his defense will ask of one specific position along the defensive line – the nose tackle.
"It is critical," Zimmer said when asked what role the defensive tackle will play in his defense. "In Cincinnati, I was very fortunate to have Domata Peko, who, in my opinion, is one of the best nose tackles in the league. On top of that, he is a great guy and a smart guy. That helps the middle linebacker not get blocked very much. The nose tackles do a lot of dirty work that people do not see, and they give the linebackers an opportunity to stay healthy and make tackles."
Essentially, an effective nose tackle in Zimmer's scheme will command the full attention of one blocker and, ideally, up to the full attention of two blockers, which leaves fewer blockers to move up to the next level to take out linebackers. Vikings fans have seen this type of nose tackle play in the past, with Pat Williams fulfilling this role very well over the course of several seasons.
View images from practice No. 2 of 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp which took place on Saturday, July 26.
The Vikings feel they have acquired a player who will fit perfectly at nose tackle – Linval Joseph. He stands at 6-4, 317 pounds and projects to provide the space-eating, blocker-occupying presence Zimmer described. While Zimmer has yet to get a good look at Joseph in action with pads on, he does like what he's seen to date from his new nose tackle.
"He came in at tremendous-looking physical shape," Zimmer said. "He weighs 317 pounds and is benching 500 pounds. Watching him out there at the walk-through, which does not mean anything, he looks like how a nose tackle is supposed to look like. I have, I guess to answer your question high, high expectations of him but they are reserved a little bit because all I've seen him do is a walk-through."
Zimmer will start to see much more now that padded practices have begun. And it won't be surprising if Zimmer continues to like what he's seeing from the Vikings nose tackle position.