The defensive line received a drastic makeover last year. The Vikings got younger at the position with three new starters, including two first-year starters in Everson Griffen and Sharrif Floyd. A lot had to go right for this unit to play well in a new scheme, and it did.
Griffen stepped up. Floyd stepped up. Veteran Tom Johnson and rookie Shamar Stephen stepped up as backups to make the defensive line the deepest unit on the team.
The Vikings return all four starters and two key backups at defensive tackle. Plus, they added depth at defensive end through free agency and the draft. We continue our training camp preview by analyzing the defensive line.
SAFE BET STARTERS: Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph, Brian Robison
Griffen finally received his opportunity to start in his fifth season with the Vikings, and he performed well at right defensive end. He’s the best player on the defensive line and one of the most athletic players on the team. Griffen’s emergence was huge for the Vikings after inking a five-year deal worth $42.5 million as Jared Allen’s replacement, but Floyd also performed well after the Vikings moved on from Kevin Williams. Floyd slimmed down during the offseason and took a significant step forward in his development.
Joseph participated throughout OTAs and minicamp this offseason, unlike last year when he underwent shoulder surgery. Once Joseph finally got on the field last year during training camp, he was sidelined due to a gunshot wound after the first preseason game. Head coach Mike Zimmer has praised Joseph for how he’s performed so far this offseason.
The biggest question mark along the defensive line is Robison’s health. He injured his pectoral muscle during a workout and was limited during OTAs and minicamp. It’s unknown whether Robison, 32, will be a full participant at the start of training camp.
BACKUPS: Scott Crichton, Danielle Hunter, Leon Mackey, Caesar Rayford, Justin Trattou, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen, Chrishon Rose, Chigbo Anunoboy, B.J. Dubose
CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH: There isn’t a starting job up for grabs along the defensive line, but the competition for some of the backup spots will be very entertaining. There’s some talented players on the defensive line that might not make the 53-man roster. The second and third string players on this unit this year are much better across the board than what they were this time last year with players like Rayford and Dubose battling for a roster spot.
THE BURNING QUESTION: How will Crichton and Hunter perform during training camp? Yes, that’s two burning questions but work with us here.
Crichton had a redshirt season last year after missing OTAs due to an NFL underclassmen rule. He took part in OTAs and minicamp this year and physically looks bigger. Crichton even took a few reps as the three-technique defensive tackle in what could be an expanded role this season. We’ll finally get a good look at what Crichton can do in the NFL over the next month, and we’re wondering the same about Hunter. He’s a raw talent out of LSU that’s a freak athlete. Hunter, 20, still has a lot to learn, but we’re not going to sleep on his potential impact as a backup this season.