The Vikings have long relied on generating a good pass rush from the front four in their Tampa-2 scheme. They've historically had a good defensive line, and last year was no exception. Despite the youth movement in the front office and the roster, the Vikings will be looking to retain their experience and veterans here.
The defensive line corps going into camp is deep, if not necessarily talented at every spot. While the Vikings are well known for their defensive ends, there is also concern that undertackle Kevin Williams is fading. The nose tackle position is clearly the biggest concern, and the Vikings may be looking to address this position in the next draft.
DL: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Trevor Guyton, D'Aundre Reed.
There aren't too many surprises here, although Everson Griffen acting as a backup linebacker and backup end will provide flexibility in roster selection. Don't be too shocked if the Vikings pick 10 defensive linemen and five linebackers, for example.
Many people may think of Griffen as a linebacker given all of his recent buzz, but expect him to play a significant number of downs with his hands to the ground as well.
Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are mainstays along the line and should expect to keep their jobs. Griffen's training as a situational linebacker all but guarantees Robison's spot on the roster as well.
Letroy Guion is projected to start at nose tackle, but if Fred Evans resolves consistency problems with his play, he might supplant Guion's spot on the starting lineup. Guion has good strength for his size and matches that with a decent bull rush.
While he's undersized (a common theme, as you'll see below), he has a good motor and will play to the whistle. His great first step complements his handwork, and he can move offensive linemen backwards.
Unfortunately, he still has some focus problems, and there are marked differences between his best games and his worst games. He'll also have trouble reading the play and will not always funnel the running back in the right direction.
He has some limited upside, but there are very specific places he can improve. If he adds to his menu of rushing moves and maintains his improvement in lateral release, he shouldn't have much of a problem holding Fred Evans off the 1-technique spot in the lineup.
Fred Evans has done a better job penetrating from the 1-technique position than Guion has in the past but cannot consistently perform at that level. Strong and fast, he should do well in the NFL, but he's never made a long-lasting impact because he can't always turn the switch on.
He's a viable threat at nose if all gears are turning but will more often fall behind on a veritable checklist of issues. Sometimes he needs to work on his lower body work at the hips, while at other times he'll display weakness with his hands.
Generally better at reading the play than Guion, he still won't see significant action outside of rotational work until he can improve his consistency—something he hasn't done in his five years in the NFL.
Christian Ballard has lined up at nearly every defensive line position for the Vikings but is best as a defensive end. Ballard reads plays much better than any other backup on the squad but is also marred by consistency issues. He's generally a good weight, but his height—6'5"—would allow him to add more without sacrificing too much speed.
This might be important for him because his biggest weakness is his strength relative to offensive lineman. While he has good technique, particularly with his hands, he can get pushed around in the run game. He has very little trouble tackling ballcarriers, however.
Trevor Guyton is quite a bit different than most of the other rookies at camp, in that he has good size and strength, but less athleticism than the Vikings will want from their defensive ends. His strength and size may encourage the Vikings to test his flexibility along the line, and there is a good chance that he will see snaps at every position—playing as a DE in a 3-4 system gives him experience with a wide range of responsibilities.
He may end up outperforming Guion and Evans and end up as the starting nose tackle, although this is unlikely. More likely is that the Vikings will continue to test his rotational strength throughout the season and may end up wanting him to replace a potentially retiring Kevin Williams in 2013 than Letroy Guion or Fred Evans.
Guyton also has misdirection problems but won't let that remove him from making the play as often as many other lineman. He needs to improve his burst off the line but does maintain good leverage and stays low. He has good hands but applies solid technique irregularly.
His biggest weakness as an edge rusher is both his speed around the corner and his closing quickness. Expect him to make the squad, but his position is not guaranteed.
D'Aundre Reed represents more versatility and can play as either a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE. Not great in space, conflicting reports about his play against the run game, but generally positive. He needs to work on strength but not much. Reed has a great frame and playing size for a modern DE in the Vikings system, but he needs more speed.
Like many of the other current backups, he will occasionally bite on misdirections, although he's not often taken out of the play entirely. The Arizona grad has good technique on the bull rush and will want to work more on that in order to specialize.
D'Aundre takes good angles on the ball in pursuit, which will sometimes make up for his speed. The Vikings have been pleased with his improvement and seems to be the second backup end after Griffen.
Reed and Guyton may be the first to go if any of the Vikings' free agents impress, but the Vikings may cut a less impressive linebacker to make room instead.
Tydreke Powell has good size for a defensive tackle and strength to match. He has a high motor, but needs to improve in leverage—he loses out by not keeping his pads low and struggles at the point of attack.
He moves well across the line, giving him the type of speed the Vikings will want to see in an undertackle, but he shows inconsistent burst off the snap. He will generally take good angles to the ball and is good in pursuit. He needs to develop technique with his hands, although he will maintain reach against offensive lineman.
Powell is the largest of the undrafted free agents, and if he can keep leverage or show consistent improvement, he's the best shot out of the UDFAs to make the practice squad.
Nick Reed was a defensive end in college with impressive strength and straight line speed for his size but is still light for the NFL. His best asset is his great motor, but he also shows some good moves off the snap—particularly his spin move.
He doesn't turn the corner around linemen very quickly. The Oregon standout needs to bulk up and get bigger while also doing work to increase agility. Reed is all right in pursuit, but he needs some work taking the correct angle.
The Vikings will want a player with his attitude, but he won't make the roster (and is ineligible for the practice squad) given the depth at DE and his size. He needs to look for a 3-4 team.
Ernest Owusu is a little small but made up for it with consistently hard and driven play. He has good agility and pursuit, with a nose for the ball. Owusu has great burst and good hands but doesn't have the speed off the edge the Vikings will want from their 4-3 edge rushers. He keeps his pads low and will constantly churn his feet but gets pushed around by bigger lineman.
The consensus is that the Cal graduate needs to bulk up, but he does play at a strength that exceeds his size. He shows consistent improvement and may get a practice squad look but will more likely get signed by another team.
Chase Baker could stand to bulk up, but not nearly as much as many of the other UDFAs. As a defensive tackle for the NFL, he'll have strength issues. Tremendous instincts with good technique, he displays quickness off the snap and has a fantastic first step.
Baker is good at moving his feet and his hands and will move along the line of scrimmage to make the play. He knows a variety of pass-rush moves, which should improve his stock. Still, the Boise State tackle gets pushed around by single blockers. If strength issues persist, he won't make the practice squad.
The Vikings like him and have given him the largest signing bonus of all undrafted free agents. If they choose to keep him, it will be as a situational (and reserve) pass-rusher. His status will depend on special teams play, but is still a very long shot to make the practice squad nevertheless.
Jeff Charleston has been a career backup whose fate on the Vikings roster may be more contingent upon rookie performance than his own. Eight sacks in four years of play speaks poorly for him, and he will probably not make the squad, largely because of good depth at defensive end.
The Vikings will more likely want to take a look at intriguing prospects like Owusu or develop D'Aundre Reed more than invest in a one-dimensional pass rusher. While he has speed-rushing capability and good pursuit, he doesn't offer enough to the Vikings to warrant another look.
Anthony Jacobs was originally projected as a 3-4 DE but should see time on the field determining whether or not he best fits as a 3-technique tackle or a 1-technique tackle. Because he is undersized as an interior lineman, it is unlikely that he would line up in the nose. He is athletic and quick but will need to develop a wider range of pass-rushing moves before he can leverage this effectively as a 3-technique tackle.
He is described as having an explosive first step and excellent agility but gets pushed off the line enough that this will cause concerns. The native Minnesotan will need to show serious improvement over the course of camp and take advantage of his speed before he gets a practice squad call.
Eric Latimore is tall but light for his projected role in any 4-3 system. Another 3-4 player out of college, Latimore is more likely to play as a 3-technique tackle than anything else. He doesn't have the speed or penetration one would expected from a defensive end in the Vikings system, but he does have good strength for his size.
Unless he reported to training camp having increased his bulk appreciably, it is unlikely he will make the practice squad. He doesn't exhibit extraordinary burst or a wide variety of pass-rushing moves but does show some raw talent.
His strength is in the run game, but only as someone who can fill a gap. He didn't gather many tackles at Penn State, and he probably won't in the NFL, either.