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.


Defensive line snapshot: As starters get older, reliable successors are needed

Posted by: Updated: April 19, 2013 - 7:39 AM

As the NFL Draft approaches, the Access Vikings team is taking a position-by-position look at what will be available, offering insight and analysis on top draft prospects both through print and via daily “Access Vikings: The Show” videos. In addition, here on the blog, we’ll give you a brief review of how the Vikings are set up at each position heading into the draft.

Today’s snapshot: Defensive line

Current starters: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Brian Robison

Reserves under contract: Everson Griffen, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, D’Aundre Reed, George Johnson, Chase Baker

Biggest offseason move: The Vikings have had no turnover on the defensive line since last season ended. Nobody hit free agency. No new players were signed.

Level of draft need: Moderate. Pleased with the way the Letroy Guion-Fred Evans tandem worked at nose tackle in 2012, the Vikings’ priorities at defensive tackle will revolve around finding additional three-technique options in the search for Kevin Williams’ successor. The defensive end position seems more solidified. But it is worth noting that Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen are all entering the final year of their current contracts.

You should know: The stage is set for Christian Ballard to enter a prove-it stage of his career. Ballard, originally drafted in the fourth round in 2011 out of Iowa, has spent the past two seasons as Kevin Williams’ understudy. And while Williams will likely remain the starter so long as he’s healthy, the Vikings also realize he’s 32 and entering his 11th season. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has noted that much and says it’s imperative that Ballard take a step forward in 2013, emerging as the type of inside force that will free up top linebacker Chad Greenway to make more plays.

“We need Christian Ballard to really step up and come along,” Frazier said. “He's at that point in his career where he'll have to really show that he can hold that position down. … We count on that position to create double teams for us and [Ballard's] got to show he's capable of making people have to double him and not single-block him. That's what Kevin has been so good at throughout his career, which makes our defense and our run defense so much better. So, we need that from Christian. If he can't do it, then we're going to have to find someone that can.”

One more thing: Frazier hasn’t started worrying too much about the age of the Vikings’ d-line. Williams will turn 33 during training camp. Allen turned 31 earlier this month. Robison also will join the 30-something crowd with his birthday on April 27. (Back-up nose tackle Fred Evans will also turn 30 during next season.)

Still, to Frazier, that’s just a line on a birth certificate and hardly a tell-all of a player’s current potential.

“As long as they're playing at a high level, you don't get concerned about the number,” he said “Jared is still demanding double teams. People still have to chip him. They still have to keep a tight end in. He can still take over a game.”

All that said, Frazier acknowledges the need to infuse more young talent into all three levels of the defense. That’s where the draft will be critical.

It will also be interesting to monitor how Allen bounces back after being slowed by a torn labrum in his left shoulder for most of last season. Allen posted only 12 sacks, the fourth lowest total of his nine-year career and had offseason surgery to fix the problem.

On the issue of quality depth, Griffen certainly took advantage of his increased opportunity in 2012 and stepped forward as a key building block. It may now be the time for D’Aundre Reed to take a similar leap forward to realize his potential.

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