The Vikings begin reporting to the first training camp July 24 at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The first full-team practice is July 28. Check here for details on tickets, parking and times.
Before then, the Star Tribune will take a look at each position group. Friday: Defensive linemen
On the 90-man roster: 8 defensive ends and 6 defensive tackles
Locks: DE Everson Griffen, DE Danielle Hunter, NT Linval Joseph, DT Sheldon Richardson
Good bets: DE Brian Robison, DE Stephen Weatherly, DT Jaleel Johnson, DT Jalyn Holmes
On the bubble: DE Tashawn Bower, DT David Parry, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo
Practice squad candidates: DE Ade Aruna, DT Curtis Cothran, DE Jonathan Wynn
(+) Richardson signed a one-year, $8 million deal worth up to $11 million through incentives if he reaches certain sack marks and a Pro Bowl or first-team All-Pro selection. … Drafted Ohio State end Jalyn Holmes in the fourth round, moving him to defensive tackle. … Hunter signed a five-year, $72 million extension possibly keeping him in Minnesota through 2023.
(-) Defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen left in free agency to the Seattle Seahawks.
Challenged only by the Rams and Eagles, the Vikings have one of the most talented defensive lines in the NFC. Three cornerstones — Griffen, Joseph and Hunter — are all signed through the 2022 season. Most of the change will take place on the bench, where Mike Zimmer has thought about tweaking the rotation. The Vikings added Holmes in the fourth round, but it’s second-year defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson whom fans should watch in camp. Johnson got some reps with the top group in spring practices behind Richardson and Joseph. He could factor into the rotation this season as Zimmer seeks an improved pass rush.
“At the end of the year, maybe it was because Tom Johnson played too many plays, maybe we didn’t play Linval enough,” Zimmer said this offseason. “There’s a lot of things that we’ve talked about that we have to look at. But we have to do a better job [pass rushing]. That’s one of the things.”
Are Richardson’s addition and Griffen’s health enough to reignite the Vikings’ pass rush into one of the league’s best? They fielded 2017’s second-ranked pass defense, but need more from a pass rush that produced 37 sacks (t-17th). Specifically, they need more from an interior that had just 6.5 of those sacks. Griffen sat out spring practices as a precaution, rehabbing an undisclosed lower-body injury that’s different from the torn plantar fascia that derailed his All-Pro level start to last season. Can he stay healthy? Will Richardson be the stabilizing force the Vikings sought?
“[The Jets] got to come see me. That’s it. Seattle too. They got to come see me,” Richardson said when asked about playing his former teams this season. “That’s it. No more than that, but we got our whole schedule. Got to get through OTAs. Got to learn the playbook. Got to accustomed to my teammates that I’m with now. I’m glad to be here.”
Sounds motivated, so we’ll see.
What you should know
The Vikings are investing the 4th-most salary cap space to defensive linemen — toward the 2019 season. Aside from Richardson’s one-year deal, this is the group they’ve chosen for the long haul. If Richardson plays well, the Vikings could climb the charts on defensive line spending. The time is now for an immensely talented group to dominate.
1,059 — The combined 2017 snaps from departed defensive tackles Johnson and Stephen. Both players were underrated cogs in the Vikings’ second-ranked run defense last season. Almost every snap is expected to come from a new contributor between Richardson, Johnson, Holmes or Parry.
The top two rotation spots — Will Brian Robison, who played 56.4 percent last year, continue to be the first pass rusher off the bench at 35 years old? Stephen Weatherly can state his case for playing time this preseason, as can defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson for whether he’ll earn a sizable role off the bench in Year 2.