EDGE RUSHER Ø good condition

If there's one thing the Vikings have figured out, it's the art of assembling a deep pool of quality defensive ends. Starting right end Jared Allen had a franchise-record 22 sacks a year ago and shows no signs of slowing down at age 30. Left end Brian Robison proved himself worthy as a first-year starter, reaching a sack total (eight) that his higher-profile predecessor, Ray Edwards, didn't reach until his third year as a starter. Behind them are two of the most promising young defenders on the team. Right end Everson Griffen and left end D'Aundre Reed are 24 and making strong cases for increased playing time. Griffen had four sacks in his second season last year. Reed was inactive for all 16 games a year ago but looks significantly stronger and quicker.


All signs point toward the Vikings being deep enough to avoid having to keep Benny Sapp's cell number close by. Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are back after missing a combined 21 games a year ago. Nickel back Josh Robinson, a rookie third-round draft pick, is one of the fastest players in the league and Winfield's eventual replacement. And 24-year-old A.J. Jefferson made the team's youth movement even younger when he arrived via trade from the Cardinals on the night of the final cuts. Perceptions, however, can change in a hurry at cornerback (Google Cedric Griffin's knees). Keep in mind the following: 1. The team's best corner, Winfield, is 35 years old. 2. Robinson suffered two injuries -- hamstring and concussion -- in his first month in NFL pads. 3. The same team that thought highly of Chris Carr and Zack Bowman in free agency a few months back dumped both of them in the final cuts. The Vikings' cornerback situation flat-lined last year. It has improved, but we'll wait to see how it holds up within the division before assigning a clean bill of health.


The Vikings kept seven linebackers, but realistically they're as thin there as they are deep at defensive end. The defense can win with Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson starting at the outside linebacker positions and handling the nickel packages. Starting middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley remains a major concern. Henderson's backup on the strong side is Marvin Mitchell, a six-year pro with only two NFL starts. Larry Dean, who is strictly a special teams player, backs up Greenway. And Tyrone McKenzie, who spent all of last season on the Vikings practice squad, is behind Brinkley. Rookie seventh-round draft pick Audie Cole forced his way onto the roster with his knack for making big plays in the preseason. He has tremendous upside, but for now he's a long-term project.


When the Vikings were dominating defensively a few years back, they had Pat Williams at his best at nose tackle, E.J. Henderson thumping people at middle linebacker and Darren Sharper patrolling the deep middle at safety. In the past two seasons, the Vikings defense slipped in part because Williams got old and retired, Henderson broke a femur and got old, and Sharper signed with New Orleans. This year, backup under tackle Letroy Guion has been moved to nose tackle, while Brinkley takes over for Henderson and rookie first-round pick Harrison Smith joins the mix at safety. Guion could be good, but we don't know because he played less than one quarter of the first preseason game before spraining a knee. Brinkley could be good, but we don't know because he missed all of last season following hip surgery. And Smith probably will be very good, but he's also only a rookie.