TVA previews the 10 storylines that will be consuming our lives starting on July 26 when the Vikings report to Mankato (full camp schedule available from Vikings.com).
8. Defensive Line
The Vikings’ defensive line situation may seem relatively stable, with all four starting spots presumably solidified, but look a little closer and you realize that’s not entirely the case. In fact there are many questions regarding not only the depth on the D-line but also two of the starting spots. The major issues are as follows.
Question #1: Is Letroy Guion a legitimate starting nose tackle?
The Vikings are going with smaller, more penetrating nose tackles, abandoning the anchor-tackle model they employed with Pat Williams and then Remi Ayodele (they had slightly more success with Pat in that role than Ayodele). This is all fine-and-good – more penetration could mean more big plays and more turnovers, but lack of a genuine anchor at the nose does also put more pressure on linebackers and defensive backs – but of course the plan only works if the players execute. So can Guion clean up his game, play more under control and thrive as a starting nose? Or is the whole “Guion starting at the nose thing” kind of a non-issue since the Vikings will employ a rotation anyway? Here’s one thing I’m fairly certain about: Fred Evans is not the answer. At all.
Question #2: Is Christian Ballard ready to come into his own?
Ballard may ultimately be the better answer at the nose than Guion, if what you’re looking for is a quick penetrating guy who is not the classic anchor. And if he’s not the answer at the nose, he may very well be the answer at the 3-tech when/if Kevin Williams moves on (more on that in a second). This would be a good time for Ballard to have a huge camp and force the coaches to give him more game reps, either at the nose or spelling Williams or maybe even pushing Williams right out of his starting job.
Question #3: How about the new guys?
The Vikings drafted Trevor Guyton and plan on using him primarily at tackle (at least that was the plan as of several months ago; for all I know it will change once camp rolls around). Guyton is even smaller than Letroy Guion though and looks like a guy you only want to use in pass rush situations. The team also picked up a bunch of UFAs, the most intriguing of whom has to be Chase Baker. As with all rookie low-round-picks and UFAs, who knows what you’re actually going to get. It’s a grab-bag and the Vikings are just hoping they can reach in and pull out a gem.
Question #4: Who will be the primary back-ups at defensive end?
Jared Allen and Brian Robison are set in stone obviously, but who the heck is going to make up the rotation behind them? Everson Griffen we have learned will go into camp as a linebacker, so he is seemingly not a factor in this discussion (though we assume he’ll still get some reps at DE). The most intriguing young guy in the mix is D’Aundre Reed, a late round 2011 pick who was on the active roster all year but didn’t get into a single game. The Vikings clearly like what this guy brings talent-wise and are hoping for him to take another step. In terms of established veteran presence, there’s Jeff Charleston and Nick Reed, two guys who will begin camp on the roster bubble. In the UFA long-shot category there’s Anthony Jacobs, Eric Latimore and Ernest Owusu. From this group, the Vikings want to pick at least 2 guys they can rotate in on a semi-heavy basis, giving Jared and B-Rob more of a blow (Jared will not like this plan but it’s for his own good so he needs to just suck it up). They could also bring in different players as camp progresses and veterans get cut.
Question #5: Is Kevin Williams going to make it through camp?
Do I think the Vikings are going to cut Williams? No. Do I think they should cut Williams? No. But do I think there’s a chance they could cut Williams? Yes I think there’s a chance. It may be a small chance but it’s there. It wouldn’t be for cap reasons because they’re well under. But, what if some young guy really steps it up in camp, Christian Ballard maybe, and challenges Williams who is still a good player but is getting up there and has had nagging injuries? And Leslie Frazier decides to dial back Williams’ reps and give this young guy more of a look? Or maybe Williams just flat-out doesn’t play well in camp, gets dinged and starts looking like a fading oldster? Here we would have a situation not unlike last year when some veterans dropped off the table and the team had all the reason in the world to dump these guys and give their youngsters a shot. Except, for whatever reason, Leslie Frazier clung to these guys – I’m thinking about Cedric Griffin mostly but Bernard Berrian fits the mold too – longer than he should have, creating ugly scenes once it came time to bench them. If there’s any guy on this roster who’s ripe to become the Ced Griffin of 2012 it’s Williams. And if the Vikes see that kind of situation looming, I think they just cut him and move on. They have to have learned their lesson from what went down last year. It’s a young rebuilding team and they don’t need old pouting malcontents messing up the chemistry. We know Williams has already approached them about a new contract and been rebuffed, so it’s possible the ugliness is simmering even as we speak.
That’s a lot of stuff to keep our eyes on. Normally I’d do my How I Hope This Plays Out/How I Hope This Doesn’t Play Out bit but it would make my brain explode.
Next time: Matt Kalil, Settling In (hopefully with his contract signed)