Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday that DT Kevin Williams played his best game of the season on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. That’s a good sign for the Vikings defense because when Williams makes plays in the middle of the Vikings defense, it opens up opportunities for other defenders.
But Williams isn’t the only Vikings DT who has stood out recently. Youngsters Christian Ballard and Letroy Guion have flashed potential recently, and seeing them continue to develop would be a huge positive for the Vikings defense. We won’t get ahead of ourselves here; Ballard and Guion can’t be mentioned in the same breath as Williams yet, and “flashing potential” is a far cry from becoming a productive and disruptive member of an NFL defensive line. But seeing young players flash potential is a lot better than the alternative.
It was Guion who blocked the Raiders 49-yard FG attempt in the 4th quarter to help the Vikings build momentum for a 14-point 4th quarter and near comeback victory. For the season, Guion has 13 tackles and 1.0 tackle for loss playing behind Williams. Those numbers won’t blow you away, but they’re an indication that Guion is progressing in his 4th season and will likely compete for a starting position at some point in the near future.
Ballard made a great play on Sunday against the Raiders, too. The Raiders had the ball and a 27-14 lead with just over 6 minutes to play in the 4th quarter, and they were trying to work on the game clock and get out of Mall of America Field with a tough road win. On a 1st-and-10 rush by RB Michael Bush, Ballard was cut block and fell to the ground. But he quickly picked himself up, ran to Bush as the RB sprinted off left tackle, and punched the ball out of Bush’s arms. DE Brian Robison was there to recover the fumble, and the Vikings scored a TD just two plays later to close the gap and make the score 27-21 with 5:12 to play.
Again, this doesn’t mean Ballard is destined for the Pro Bowl anytime soon. But it was the kind of hustle and impact play that you want to see from young, developing players, even though the team is going through a disappointing 2-8 season. Ballard has 2.0 tackles for a loss on the season and he’s also been a factor for the Vikings special teams group. Just as is the case for Guion, it appears Ballard will be challenging for even more playing time next season.
Another aspect about this to keep in mind is that both Ballard and Guion were mid-round picks by the Vikings. Ballard was selected with a 4th-round choice (#106 overall) this past April and Guion was a 5th-round pick (#152) in 2008. Getting this kind of development – and hopefully consistent disruption and production in the near future – from mid-round picks is crucial to a franchise’s ability to build a roster that can attain long-term success.
Tags: Christian Ballard, Letroy Guion
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