Meetings are taking place at Winter Park this week with the Vikings planning a detailed player-by-player evaluation of their current roster. As they perform their in-house review, we’re following suit and delivering our own snapshot evaluation of each position group.
Depth also is something to get excited about here. One of the team's best athletes is defensive end Everson Griffen. But the starting ends are so good that Griffen's relegated to a role player as backup end, pass-rushing tackle and linebacker when the team uses a nickel package with a three-man front. Rookie Christian Ballard is another exciting prospect that can play nose tackle, under tackle or left end. And even though he was inactive for all 16 games, rookie end D'Aundre Reed showed signs of being a natural pass rusher during the preseason. Bottom line here is if the Vikings acquired defensive backs the way they acquire defensive linemen, they wouldn't be looking at back-to-back seasons with just nine total wins.
Keep an eye on: Griffen has to get on the field more next season, his third in the NFL. He's too quick, too fast, too strong, too aggressive and too talented not to play more. And considering who the Vikings are looking at to replace Fred Pagac as defensive coordinator (yes, he'll be let go or demoted; no, it still hasn't happened), it doesn't appear the team will be switching to a 3-4 defense. So perhaps Griffen moves to outside linebacker full-time in the 4-3. That was something the team tried briefly last summer. Maybe with an entire offseason to make it work, it can happen. Maybe Griffen plays more at under tackle while the team reduces the workload on Williams, who turns 32 next August. Heck, the way Griffen covers punts and kickoffs, maybe he should play strong safety. The first 273-pound safety in NFL history! Whatever the answer is, next season's defensive coordinator needs to make heightening Griffen's role a priority.
Reason for worry: If only Pat Williams hadn't gotten old before the rest of his linemates, the Vikings might still be one of the best defenses in the league. Instead, without Big Pat in top form at nose tackle, the Vikings' run defense was a shell of what it was from 2005-09. The Remi Ayodele signing didn't work. Fred Evans isn't the answer. Ballard might be the answer, but his build might be better suited at under tackle or left end. Among the many, many holes to fill this offseason, a big run-stuffing nose tackle shouldn't be overlooked by new GM Rick Spielman. Also, among the team's 16 unrestricted free agents, the one that's probably most worthy of being re-signed is defensive tackle Letroy Guion. The team invested four seasons in this fifth-round project. They've made him a solid backup and given him a chance to succeed Williams in a year or two. They shouldn't let him just walk away. Not when he's only 24 and has his best years ahead of him.