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A look at the defensive line heading into Vikings training camp

Leading up to the start of training camp on Friday, we will set the stage for Vikings camp by taking a look at where things stand at each position group. Today, we examine the defensive tackles and defensive ends.

A QUICK REFRESHER: Unless you got really fired up about the Vikings signing undrafted rookies Theiren Cockran and Denzell Perine, there was not much excitement when it comes to the offseason moves along the defensive line. And that's OK. The Vikings already have the NFC North's deepest and most talented defensive line. They return defensive ends Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter, along with defensive tackles Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd and Tom Johnson. If they can remain healthy, those six will likely get most of the snaps. But there still two or three other roster spots that will be up for grabs down in Mankato.

HOT CAMP STORYLINE: Will Joseph be ready to go at the start of camp? The big nose tackle was having a great 2015 season before suffering a toe injury in late November. He missed a few games and wasn't quite himself when he returned. He underwent toe surgery in the offseason and was able to participate in some individual drills in spring workouts. We will see on Friday if Joseph is a full-go or will start training camp on the PUP list.

TOP BATTLE TO WATCH: The youngest player in the NFL last season, Hunter impressed as a rookie by totaling six sacks, second on the team behind Griffen, the Pro Bowler. It will be interesting to see if he is given a legitimate chance to unseat Robison, the longtime starter at left end. This spring, Robison was with the starters in the base defense. But if Hunter continues his ascension, he will get more snaps at the expense of Robison, though both figure to get plenty of work in Mike Zimmer's rotation.

POSSIBLY IN DANGER: In 2014, Zimmer's first season here, the Vikings drafted Scott Crichton in the third round in the hopes of him becoming Robison's eventual replacement. But he played sparingly in his first two NFL seasons, recording 10 tackles and not a single sack in 21 career games. It is still too soon to label Crichton a bust or write him off. But it is also fair to wonder if he will still be on the squad six weeks from now.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Hunter, an impressive athlete with long arms and a quick burst, is an obvious candidate to break out. But allow me to submit a defender who has been a starter each of the past two seasons: Sharrif Floyd. In his first three years in the NFL, Floyd flashed when healthy. Unfortunately, it seems something is always nagging him, as was the case again for most of this spring, when he was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. If Floyd can find a way to play all 16 games at relatively full health, he could become one of the NFL's top 4-3 defensive tackles.

EARLY ROSTER BREAKDOWN:

  • On the 90-man roster: 8 defensive ends and 8 defensive tackles
  • Projected to make the 53-man: 4-5 ends and 4-5 tackles
  • Roster locks: 5 (Griffen, Hunter, Floyd, Johnson, Joseph)
  • Good bets: 1 (Robison)
  • On the bubble: 6 (Crichton, DE Justin Trattou, DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Zach Moore, DT Kenrick Ellis, DT Shamar Stephen)
  • Longshots: 4 (Perine, Cockran, DT Travis Raciti, DT Toby Johnson)
  • Injured reserve: 1 (DT B.J. Dubose)

Vikings' Loadholt retires, saying 'my body is telling me it's time'

Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt has officially retired from the NFL.

The Vikings placed the 30-year-old on the reserve/retired list this afternoon after officially informing them today that he planned to retire.

Loadholt was placed on injured reserve in each of the previous two seasons, only playing in 11 of the team’s 32 regular-season games over that span. In 2014, a torn pectoral ended his season early. In 2015, he tore his Achilles’ tendon during the preseason and was lost for the entire season.

Loadholt was back on the field for spring workouts and often lined up as the first-team starting right tackle during practices open to the media. But after experiencing another injury-related setback sometime in the past few weeks, the 6-foot-8, 345-pound tackle decided it was time to retire.

“This chapter in my life is closing and I look forward to seeing what the next one brings,” Loadholt said in a statement. “I’ll always love this game and the opportunity to do something I dreamed about since I was seven years old. But my body is telling me it’s time to hang up my cleats.”

Loadholt, who took a pay cut in March to remain on the team, was slated to battle with free-agent addition Andre Smith to start at right tackle.

The Vikings drafted Loadholt in the second round in 2009 and he started right away. He missed just two games in his first five seasons and was one of the NFL’s better right tackles before injuries derailed his career.

Loadholt has also been a respected voice in the Vikings locker room and a strong representative of the organization in the community.

“When you think of the Vikings you think of players like Phil Loadholt,” said owner Mark Wilf in a statement. “He carried himself as a professional and gave his all for his teammates. Phil will be a Viking for life. He was a great player and a better person. We wish him and his family all the best.”

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