When Louisville played Connecticut over the last three years, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater always knew where nose tackle Shamar Stephen was on the field.
“I just remember him being the biggest guy on the field,” Bridgewater said. “I remember we were playing them on Friday night this past season and we tried to run a ‘wham’ play. He just blew up the entire play, so I remember that. It stood out.”
Known as a run-stopper with the Huskies, the 6-4, 309-pound nose tackle landed in a pretty good situation for a seventh round pick. The biggest knocks against Stephen were his lack of production up until his senior season and his ineffectiveness as a pass rusher.
But he fits Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s primarily goal on defense – stopping the run -- with his size and ability to occupy two defenders and allow the linebackers to make a play.
“He’s got some good power with him,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s going to be a bigger guy once he gets a little more into the weight program, but he’s got great quickness, great quick hands. He’s got a chance down the road too.”
Stephen displayed some of that power last week during the team’s rookie minicamp. While he’s getting adjusted to a new situation and a new scheme, Stephen and the rest of the defensive line mainly learned basic technique during Friday’s open practice. The unit worked on how to properly use hands and feet in this defense to the point where defensive line coach Andre Patterson said during the drills, “If you can’t execute this, you cannot play for the Minnesota Vikings.”
“It’s a little different technique then what I’m used to,” Stephen said. “The first couple of days were getting used to it and now it’s just trying to perform with it.
There’s an emphasis on the first step, where Stephen said at Connecticut it was “trying to target your guy and push them back.”
Zimmer thinks Stephen can develop more upper body strength this offseason. Stephen said the biggest he’s played was about 320 pounds, but he wants to make sure it’s good weight he puts on this summer.
“He has a tenacious attitude, and he’s just someone as time goes on will continue to get better,” Bridgewater said.
He’ll be someone to keep an eye on in training camp.