Hartman: Vikings' rivals get stronger with defensive stars

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2014 - 6:22 PM
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Defensive end Jared Allen has spent the past five seasons in pursuit of quarterback Jay Cutler whenever the Vikings faced the Bears. Now the two NFL stars will be Chicago teammates, after each one received a hefty contract this offseason.

Photo: File by JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com,

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Over the past four seasons, the Packers have won seven of nine meetings against the Vikings, including a playoff contest, while the Bears are 6-2 against the Vikings over the same stretch, as those two teams have dominated the NFC North.

Now with the Packers signing former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers to a three-year, $30 million contract, and the Bears signing former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen to a four-year deal worth $32 million, it certainly looks like those two teams will remain the Vikings’ main challenge in 2014.

The Packers and Bears also have the luxury of having two of the best quarterbacks in the NFC with Super Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers on the Packers, and Jay Cutler, who signed a seven-year, $126.7 million extension in January after a strong 2013 under first-year coach Marc Trestman with the Bears.

Still the Vikings should be able to compete this year and received good reports from the media, such as Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks, who ranked Tampa Bay first and the Vikings second for improving their team through free agency, among non-playoff teams from last season.

Banks wrote: “I give Minnesota high marks for systematically addressing a series of needs that should allow it to approach the draft in a much more advantageous position. General Manager Rick Spielman has done good work and shouldn’t have to reach to fill any glaring void in the draft.”

Will change team defense

According to Jason Wilde of ESPN Wisconsin, the Packers plan to use Peppers as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker with the three-time first-team All-Pro filling in at a number of different spots.

Meanwhile, Trestman told the Chicago Tribune he believes Allen’s presence on the defensive line will alter entire teams’ game plans when facing the Bears.

“We certainly hope he can be a game wrecker, and so we have to know where he is one every play,” Trestman said of Allen. “I would say in most cases he’s a difference-maker, and you have to neutralize the difference-makers each and every week before you do anything.”

Allen hasn’t yet formally spoken to the Chicago media, with a news conference scheduled for Monday.

Two of the best ever

Peppers, 34, has been in the league two years longer than Allen, playing from 2002 to ’09 with the Carolina Panthers before joining the Bears. He has averaged nearly 10 sacks per season and has 118½ for his career, including seven last year.

Allen, who turns 32 on Thursday, has been perhaps the league’s best pass rusher since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2004. In his 10 seasons in the NFL, he has 128½ sacks, and in his six years with the Vikings he was one of the best defensive players in the NFL, posting a career-high 22 sacks in 2011 and averaging over 14 sacks per season.

Allen and Peppers rank second and third for active sack leaders in the NFL. They trail only John Abraham, the 35-year-old Arizona Cardinals linebacker with 133½.

So the jury might still be out on how much harder the addition of Peppers for the Packers and Allen for the Bears will make it for the Vikings to compete in the division, but both have a great track record of success.

Excited by Sherels hire

One of the great pieces of news for the Gophers was Jerry Kill’s decision to hire Mike Sherels as his linebackers coach, and Kill is excited at his prospects.

“Mike has been in the system, that’s how the coaching staff we’ve got is bringing people along,” Kill said of Sherels, who played linebacker for the Gophers under Glen Mason and Tim Brewster from 2003 to ’07. “He’s been here, he understands our system, he’s tremendously intelligent. He can sell the University of Minnesota better than anybody, including us, because he’s been here, he’s been a part of playing, a captain. He’s just like his brother [Marcus] is there with the Vikings, the bloodline is very good.

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pm
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pm
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pm
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pm
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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