After yesterday’s in-depth look at the Vikings’ offense, today we turn towards the defense, the unit that desperately needed a makeover. Last year’s Viking defense was one of the worst in team history, giving up tons of points and blowing leads late in games. Such high-level buffoonery calls for drastic changes. Let’s go through each position group and see what GM Rick Spielman and friends have done so far.
Defensive line: Gone are superstars Jared Allen and Kevin Williams, who, although great players, were on the downsides of their careers and commanding far too high of salaries. The defensive line got younger as Linval Joseph was signed to be a rock in the middle, Brian Robison was re-signed to build off his excellent year last season, Everson Griffen was given great money to be a workhorse defensive end, and Sharif Floyd will be given the chance to show why he was a first round pick last year. 3rd round pick Scott Crichton (DE) and some other depth players will also get a chance to mix into Zimmer’s D-line rotation, a system designed to keep fresh legs on the line throughout the game. This group has a chance to be excellent this season.
Griffen is the biggest risk of the group, as although he has shown flashes of excellence over the past few years, he has also disappeared for extended stretches. Hopefully the frequent rotation will keep him energized and earning the huge contract Spielman gave him.
Joseph is the smallest risk of the group, as he has proven himself an effective run stopper and his contract didn’t break the bank. Plus, he is replacing Letroy “invisible man” Guion, who’s had more offsides penalties than tackles for loss in his career. My dog would have been an upgrade over that stiff.
Linebackers: For the linebackers, Chad Greenway is the only proven quality player at this point, but there are young players galore all competing for the other two spots. 9th overall pick Anthony Barr will have the inside track for one of the open spots, as being 6′ 5″, 255 lbs. with a 4.6 sec. 40 yd dash tends to do that in the NFL. Some think Barr will be more of a DE/LB rushing the passer type of player, but once his mental grasp of the game catches up to his physical skills, it will be hard to take him off the field no matter the situation.
Audie Cole looked solid as the MLB last season, so if he takes the next step in his development he should once again find a home there. Other LBs in the mix include Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Larry Dean, Brandon Watts, and the recycled Jasper Brinkley.
Once Barr adjusts to the NFL, a corps consisting of Greenway, Barr, and Cole (or whoever can beat him for the job) will be a respectable unit, something that couldn’t be said about the purple for a few years now. The loss of Erin Henderson was addition by subtraction. (Hopefully he has his chemical dependency issues under control.)
Defensive backs: The secondary is still in the most need of talent at this point. Harrison Smith locks down one safety spot, Captain Munnerlyn is a proven player at the slot CB, and Xavier Rhodes showed great promise during his rookie campaign last year. That’s the good news.
Now for the bad news. The other safety spot and outside CB positions are up in the air, and the players battling for them are either unproven or proven to be mediocre. At safety, Jamarca Sanford has had as many good moments as bad ones, and MIstral Raymond has been unable to stay on the field. At CB, Josh Robinson and Derek Cox were two of the worst in the league last year, and Marcus Sherels is primarily a punt returner with limited coverage skills.
The hope for the secondary is that perhaps a Robert Blanton, Jabari Price, or Antone Exum can show accelerated development, or maybe putting the speedy Robinson back at outside CB can bring him back to the flashes of promise he showed his rookie year. Another option is that the team may sign a veteran CB or S that gets cut by another team during training camp. Somehow the Vikings must mix and match a competent secondary if they are to field a playoff-caliber defense.
Coaching: The hope is that Mike Zimmer can once again work his magic and get underachieving players to reach their potential, something Griffen, Robinson, and Sanford could benefit greatly from. However, even getting better play from those three may not be enough to lift this defense into the top half of the league.
Zimmer is considered a defensive genius. It will take every brain cell he has to discover the formula for turning a putrid defense into a stout one.
I think he can do it.