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The Vikings Defensive Line: Fearsome Or Faulty?

August 3, 2011

There was a time – not long ago – when the Vikings defensive front was the most fearsome in the NFL. Last season, however, chinks in the armor grew into gaping wounds, and the once stout front four began to resemble an antique sieve.

For the past three seasons, the combination of Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, and Ray Edwards rarely allowed opposing running backs to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark in a single game, and the defense relied on the group to pressure the opposition’s quarterback. Largely due to the success of the quartet up front, the defense as a whole consistently ranked near the top of the league. But in 2010, the group suddenly looked older, slower, and much less effective.

Head coach Leslie Frazier used his first off-season to tinker with the defense in an effort to solidify the line. After promoting linebackers coach Fred Pagac to defensive coordinator, Frazier brought in friend and former teammate Mike Singletary to coach the linebackers, assist in head coaching duties and bring the intensity that only Mike Singletary can bring to a team. Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar retained his position; Frazier hoped a few new players could help Dunbar replicate his past success.

In addition to the new coaches, Frazier retooled his roster. With Ray Edwards departing for Atlanta, and Pat Williams languishing in free agency limbo, the defensive line will look different this season. Jared Allen and Kevin Williams remain, but free agent addition Remi Ayodele will take over Pat Williams’ old position, and fifth year defensive end Brian Robison – armed with a new three year, $14 million dollar contract – will finally shed the backup label from his resume.

The team will also rely on a steady rotation of role players to spell the starters. The coaching staff is fond of fourth-year defensive tackle Letroy Guion, who flashed his talent in limited snaps last season. On the other hand, question marks surround second year defensive end Everson Griffen. The former University of Southern California Trojan appeared in 11 games and failed to make much of an impact. In fact, Griffen has garnered more press for his off-the-field antics than his on-field play. The team will also look to sixth year defensive tackle Fred Evans. Evans’ playing time has slipped since appearing in all 16 games in 2008, but his 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame should help him gain more appearances in 2011. Finally, the team selected Christian Ballard in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Ballard is a smart, big-bodied player who should see a handful of snaps this season.

Aside from the two Pro Bowlers, Allen and Williams, the Vikings defensive line remains a question mark. Will the group return to its dominant ways, or will there be growing pains as new faces learn their roles on the line? As the Vikings look to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season, the defensive front will go a long way in determining the success or failure of the 2011 season.

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