Assessing The Defensive Line And Tight End Positions

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 9, 2011 – 4:18 pm

Over the next five days on the Blog, we’ll breakdown the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – this Saturday night in Tennessee – approaches. Click here to read Monday’s breakdown of the offensive line. Up next is the defensive line and tight ends.

From the moment the Vikings acquired DE Jared Allen before the 2008 season, the defensive line has been a strength and it’s a position that fans didn’t really worry about watching during training camp. The starters were set in stone and any talented players beyond the starters were just gravy.

Heading into the 2011 season, the Vikings still have Allen and fellow Pro Bowler DT Kevin Williams, but gone are former starters DE Ray Edwards and DT Pat Williams. Beyond inserting Brian Robison as Edwards’ replacement and signing DT Remi Ayodele to help Williams in the middle, the Vikings are reassessing their depth behind the starters and also bringing along a couple draft picks.

Jared Allen and Jim Kleinsasser battle during practice

We’ll begin with the two new starters – Robison and Ayodele. They’ll team with Allen and Williams to form the four down linemen in coordinator Fred Pagac’s 4-3 scheme. Ayodele is a run-stuffing DT that will fill the role vacated by Pat Williams. Robison will fill the role vacated by Edwards; he’s earned the opportunity after four productive seasons as a reserve.

Beyond those four players, the Vikings have a bushel of linemen fight for spots in the rotation. And the Vikings defensive line this year will truly be a rotation. Right now the depth chart is not well-defined with first-, second- and third-team units. Rather, several players are rotating in and out of different groups, which creates several different combinations and will allow the defensive line to have fresh legs late in games. When assessing the depth behind the starters, we also have to keep in mind that Williams could be suspended for the first four games of the regular season, which means a starting spot will be available.

Here are a few observations from the last two days and throughout last week on the Vikings defensive line rotation…
— Allen is having a tremendous training camp, but so is fellow DE Everson Griffen. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft and played just occasionally last year. This year, though, I think he’ll be a guy who plays at least 10-15 defensive snaps per game. After Allen, Robison and then Griffen, the next DE in line to play is Adrian Awasom, who has shown some flashes during camp.
— Fred Evans and Letroy Guion seem to be in line after Williams and Ayodele at DT. I’ve also seen Christian Ballard – a fourth-round pick this past April – and Tremaine Johnson take reps with the second-team, but it’s been mostly Evans and Guion. Evans is a guy VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman picked up from Miami early in his tenure with the Vikings. Guion was a fifth-round pick of Spielman’s in 2008 and has developed steadily during his career. He may finally be blossoming into a regular member of the DL rotation. Both guys have taken reps with the first-team on occasion but spend most of their time with the second-team.
— DE D’Aundre Reed is a player to watch this preseason. He’s passed the Blog Eye Test a few times during training camp and he’s even been mentioned by head coach Leslie Frazier during a press conference. He stands at 6-4, 260 pounds and is a talented pass rusher. He could improve against the run but I think he’s shown explosion in pressuring the QB from the edge. He’s spent a lot of time with the second-team but is also bouncing down to the third-team at times.
— Former Gopher Cedric McKinley and new pickup Colby Whitlock are primarily third-team DTs and David Akinniyi plays DE on the third-team.

To go any further than that at this point is probably jumping the gun. There are 14 defensive linemen in camp right now and I’m guessing the final number on the 53-man roster will be somewhere between nine and 11. Once we get a couple preseason games under our belts, we can make a better guess as to which players will round out the DL rotation.

Let’s jump quickly to the TEs, where Visanthe Shiancoe enters atop the depth chart and second-round rookie Kyle Rudolph follows. I anticipate the Vikings will use multiple TE sets regularly this season, which means we’ll see Rudolph and Shiancoe on the field at the same time. Shiancoe has had a solid camp and Rudolph has impressed me quite a bit with the camp he’s put together.

Rudolph and Shiancoe aren’t going to blow anyone away with their blocking, though. But that’s part of the reason why the Vikings still have Jim Kleinsasser. He’ll be on the roster and will be a valuable part of this offense, as an option at TE and also as a pseudo member of the offensive line.

If the Vikings keep more than three TEs, which is certainly possible, Jeff Dugan offers consistency and familiarity with the franchise. Then youngsters Ed Barham and Allen Reisner enter the picture and could be fighting for spots on the practice squad. Reisner is out of the University of Iowa and has shown flashes of solid pass-catching ability while Barham has done the same and is a hard guy to tackle after the catch.

As is the case with all positions at this point in training camp, we need preseason games before we further judge.

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A Few Notes From Tuesday Morning Full Pads Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 9, 2011 – 11:01 am

Day 10 of 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp is underway in Mankato and Practice #13 is in the books. The Vikings enjoyed great football weather – something you don’t often get in the dog days of summer – on Tuesday and worked for about two hours in front of another impressive training camp crowd.

Vikings fans continue to pack the bleachers next to Field #1. I was expecting attendance to be down slightly this year in Mankato, but from what I can tell the crowds have been pretty full every day and then we saw the largest crowd ever for a Saturday night practice this past weekend.

On Tuesday morning the Vikings practiced in full pads and got some situational work done. Aside from the normal drill work the team does in practice, the defense and offense went live against each other in the four-minute drill (offense tries to run out the clock) and at the goal line. I’d give the nod to the offense in the four-minute period and the defense had the advantage in goal line work.

LB Chad Greenway, who has had a nice training camp to this point, grabbed an INT during 7-on-7 drills. Speaking of LBs, we caught up with E.J. Henderson after practice so watch for that video to be posted over the next several hours. We also caught up with Vikings preseason television analyst Mike Mayock after practice to get his thoughts on the Vikings, so stay tuned for that.

On Monday we began a comprehensive, position-by-position look at the roster by analyzing the offensive line. On Tuesday morning I kept an eye on the offensive line to see if there were any major changes, but didn’t really catch anything to note. Tuesday afternoon we’ll continue to roster analysis by addressing the defensive line and tight ends, so stay tuned for that as well.

The Eye Test
We’ll mention one defensive player and one offensive player in the eye test department. E.J. Henderson is clearly the leader of this defense, at least vocally on the field, and he continues to play well. I’ve been told by multiple people on the team that this is the best they’ve seen Henderson look coming into training camp and now I can see it, too. The offensive player I’d like to point out is a guy we’ve pointed out previously in the eye test – FB Matt Asiata. He’s an undrafted rookie free agent but I really like how he’s coming along. He’s athletic, can catch the ball out of the backfield and even has a little wiggle to him when he’s carrying the football. If he can display some power blocking ability in the preseason, I think he’s got a shot to make this roster.

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