Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings 2013 look ahead: Defensive line

Posted by: under Vikings, NFL draft, Leslie Frazier, Brian Robison, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Leslie Frazier Updated: January 17, 2013 - 4:40 PM

The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the defensive line.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Get excited: At this time last year, the Vikings were vowing to find ways to get Everson Griffen on the field more, hoping to take greater advantage of his rare blend of size, strength and quickness. A training camp experiment with Griffen at linebacker was quickly scrapped and defensive coordinator Alan Williams instead settled on a role that utilized Griffen as both an end and as an inside rusher in passing situations. Griffen finished the regular season with eight sacks, third on the team behind Jared Allen (12) and Brian Robison (8.5). Griffen also had an interception in Week 15 in St. Louis, returning that 29 yards for a touchdown. It was an eye-opening display of speed and athleticism for a guy who measures 6-foot-3, 273 pounds. He also had one of three Viking sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the Vikings’ playoff loss in Green Bay.

Coach Leslie Frazier continues to laud Griffen’s maturity and increased willingness to study the game. And Griffen’s emergence will allow the Vikings some flexibility on the d-line as they put together their future plans.

Griffen is entering the final season of his rookie contract. And if his production continues escalating, you can bet General Manager Rick Spielman will try to find the right timing to lock Griffen up for the long-term well before he’d be able to become a free agent in March 2014.

Keep an eye on: Defensive tackles in this spring’s draft. There’s a belief that this year’s draft class is stacked at that position, which may tempt Spielman to alter the 2012 interior rotation that featured Letroy Guion and Fred Evans at nose tackle and Kevin Williams and Christian Ballard at the under tackle spot.

On a draft analysis conference call Wednesday, ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. rattled off a handful of tackle prospects who might make sense for the Vikings. Say, for example, the team uses free agency to address its need for an outside receiver. Then it could possibly make sense to give Georgia’s John Jenkins a long hard look with the No. 23 pick. Jenkins is 6- 3, 358 pounds and can be a fantastic plug in the middle of the defense.

But even if the Vikings wanted to wait to address their defensive tackle needs, they’ll have decent options in later rounds. In the Round 3 range, for example, Kiper mentions Penn State’s Jordan Hill as an option. He also offers a couple of sleepers for the fourth or fifth round in Missouri Southern State’s Brandon Williams and Georgia Southern’s Brent Russell.

There’s also Bowling Green’s Chris Jones, who will be cast aside by many teams as undersized. But Jones is a smart player with a high motor whom Kiper said was “as productive as any defensive tackle in college football this year. At any school, at any program.”

Reason for worry: Age. Three of the Vikings’ four d-line starters in 2012 will be in their 30s by the time training camp opens.

So now comes time to ask that difficult but necessary question: Just how much do the older guys have left in the tank? And might the Vikings ask either Jared Allen or Kevin Williams to restructure their contracts this offseason?

Allen will head to his fifth Pro Bowl in the last six seasons next week. But his inclusion in this year’s game was based more on past reputation than this season’s production. Allen played most of the year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury he will need surgery to fix following his trip to Honolulu. How fast he bounces back remains to be seen. Contract-wise, he’s also entering the final year of his deal and will be owed in excess of $14 million in 2013. And it’s far from a given that Allen, now nearing his 31st birthday, will remain with the organization beyond that.

Williams, meanwhile, will turn 33 in August. And while he’s one of those ideal hard-working, low-maintenance leaders who fits Frazier’s blueprint for success, the mileage of 10 full NFL seasons is catching up. Taking loyalty and emotion out of the equation initially, it’ll be up to Spielman and his staff to deliver an honest assessment of just how much they think they can still squeeze out of Williams going forward. At present, Christian Ballard is in line to be Williams’ successor. But Ballard hasn’t yet established himself as a can’t-miss fallback plan.

It wasn’t long ago that Allen and Williams were dominant game changers whose presence was noticeable every Sunday. And to be clear, both are still very good players who can steady and energize the defense. But for how much longer? That’s the type of question that the NFL’s best teams have instinct for answering.

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Tennessee 10 4th Qtr
Jacksonville 14
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 93 4th Qtr 2:15
Chicago 98
New Orleans 77 4th Qtr 8:57
Houston 73
Milwaukee 21 1st Qtr 2:04
Sacramento 27
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 1 FINAL
Carolina 4
Washington 5 FINAL(OT)
Columbus 4
Anaheim 2 3rd Prd 9:59
Montreal 1
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 59 FINAL
Canisius 60
Temple 82 FINAL
Delaware 62
FIU 58 FINAL
Long Island 69
Lehigh 65 FINAL
Quinnipiac 80
South Alabama 54 FINAL
Richmond 65
Seton Hall 89 FINAL
South Florida 69
Ga Southern 76 FINAL
Stetson 67
Yale 57 FINAL
Vermont 56
Cleveland State 54 FINAL
Virginia 70
Wright State 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 56
Nicholls 54 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 79
Morgan State 48 FINAL
Rider 62
Idaho State 72 FINAL
South Dakota St 75
Oakland City 52 FINAL
Austin Peay 76
Eureka 38 FINAL
Bradley 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Charlotte 75
Connecticut 56 FINAL
Duke 66
Southern Miss 46 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Coastal Carolina 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Montana State 53 FINAL
South Dakota 55
LSU 65 2nd Half 8:11
UAB 57
Ohio 52 2nd Half 10:45
Evansville 50
CS-Dominguez 6 1st Half 9:24
Cal State Fullerton 6
Walla Walla 19 1st Half 11:46
Idaho 11
DePaul 12 1st Half 10:14
Oregon State 24
Nevada 7 1st Half 9:50
Pacific 12
Portland State 11 1st Half 7:46
San Francisco 20
CS-Bakersfield 6 1st Half 15:24
Utah State 3
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
UMBC 55 FINAL
Rider 67
Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
UCLA 67
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Troy 82 FINAL
Evansville 94
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
USC 96
St Francis-PA 52 FINAL
Duquesne 92
Indiana-Southeast 45 FINAL
IUPUI 95
Delaware State 52 FINAL
Detroit 74
Tenn Temple 48 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 68
West Virginia St 58 FINAL
Radford 52
Fairfield 47 FINAL
Seton Hall 79
Dartmouth 44 FINAL
New Hampshire 60
Ball State 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 59
Jacksonville 61 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Trine 45 FINAL
Western Mich 81
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Lipscomb 72
Samford 56 FINAL
Tulane 57
New Orleans 55 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Incarnate Word 61 FINAL
TX-Pan American 65
Ark-Little Rock 42 FINAL
South Dakota St 67
CS-Northridge 77 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Santa Clara 59 2nd Half 8:57
Oregon 49
(19) Oklahoma St 36 2nd Half 13:08
Weber State 33
Washington 45 2nd Half 9:33
San Diego State 34
Cal Poly 50 2nd Half 9:51
New Mexico 57
(10) Louisville 50 2nd Half 9:30
Grand Canyon 35

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