Vikings thinking big and defensive during NFL free agency

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 13, 2014 - 12:00 PM

One day after adding a nose tackle, Minnesota is looking at a defensive tackle and cornerback.

From triple-teaming Alabama’s Pro Day to setting up visits with two intriguing defenders to introducing their next-generation nose tackle, the Vikings spent Day 2 of NFL free agency multi-tasking their way toward what they hope will be a better roster than the one that went 5-10-1 in 2013.

With Matt Cassel locked up as their bridge to the future at quarterback, the Vikings took a peek at someone who might wind up on the other side of that bridge. General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to observe several Crimson Tide players, but most notably quarterback AJ McCarron and outside linebacker C.J. Mosley, another Vikings need player who will go high in the draft.

Meanwhile, the Vikings also were making news by setting up visits with Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton and Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. The 27-year-old Melton, who would provide depth behind Sharrif Floyd and interior pass-rushing skills assuming he’s recovering well from reconstructive knee surgery last October, will visit Thursday. The 25-year-old Munnerlyn, who would be the team’s first qualified inside slot corner since Antoine Winfield was released last spring, arrived Wednesday night and will continue his visit Thursday.

Melton’s visit is further proof that Zimmer considered defensive line to be his new team’s highest priority and the bedrock upon which to build a unit that can distance itself from the one that ranked last in scoring defense in 2013.

If Melton were to sign, he’d be the third defensive lineman locked up in the first week, joining end Everson Griffen, who was re-signed, and nose tackle Linval Joseph, who left the Giants and chose the Vikings over the Raiders and Falcons.

Joseph, 25, hasn’t made a tackle yet, but he probably scored some public relations points when he met with local reporters for the first time on Wednesday. Asked to name the nose tackles he most admired earlier in his career, the 6-4, 328-pounder paid homage to popular former Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams.

Joseph suggested that his size, quickness and physical style are similar to the traits that helped Williams anchor a defense that led the league in run defense for three straight years (2006 to 2008).

“I have size, I have speed, I have smarts and I make plays,” Joseph said. “At the end of the day, that’s what this game is about. Making plays. … Pat made a lot of plays as a Viking. He’s loved around here. I just want to be the same way.”

Meanwhile, back in Tuscaloosa, McCarron was exhibiting a similar level of confidence in front of reporters and representatives from all 32 teams. When a reporter asked McCarron whether he thought he was one of the best quarterbacks in the draft, he was quoted as simply saying, “Why not?”

Good question. But even with all his passing records, two national championships and a 77-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio, McCarron finds himself listed behind Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Jimmy Garoppolo by most draft experts.

“The rest of those guys feel like they’re the best,” McCarron told reporters. “It’s a mind-set you have to carry in yourself. I feel like my play speaks for itself over the three years I started in the SEC.”

McCarron reportedly threw the ball well during his workout.

“I’ve been hearing everything about arm strength,” McCarron said. “I feel like I should silence all that. I threw it deep early in the workout, and I threw it deep late. I felt like it was a real good day.”

Melton’s knee will have to have a good day when the Vikings check him out on Thursday. From 2011 to 2012, Melton’s 13 sacks from the tackle position were second in the league behind the 17 posted by Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins. But after making the Pro Bowl in 2012, he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the third game of last season.

Munnerlyn would be able to help a pass defense that ranked 31st in 2013. The 5-9, 195-pounder has returned five of his seven career interceptions for touchdowns and is coming off career highs in tackles (74), passes defensed (12) and sacks (3 ½).

Although he’s obviously biased now, at least one guy, Joseph, believes the Vikings are heading in the right direction. Asked about winning a Super Bowl with the Giants in his second season, Joseph compared what happened then to what he thinks will happen with the Vikings.

“The first [Super Bowl win] came so fast,” Joseph said. “We’re going to get together, and the second one is going to be bigger than the first one.”


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