While the defensive front has their share of studs in Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Everson Griffen, Emmanuel Lamur, Danielle Hunter, and Linval Joseph, the line had trouble down the stretch of the season, finishing in the bottom half of the league while letting up 4.17 yards a carry to opposing running backs. This team has teeth in the defensive unit, but much like the offensive line, injury derailed their 2016 season.
The centralized focus needs to be on keeping play-makers healthy and young-rotation guys to help share the load throughout the season. The Vikings showed a willingness to rotate out starters, especially in the middle of the line. This is where they need to have young guys like Jaleel Johnson and Dylan Bradley to step up.
“When Jaleel plays the blocker and doesn’t look into the backfield, he can play a lot better and use those powerful hands to get off blocks and make a play,” said head coach Mike Zimmer on the rookie out of Iowa.
On July 26, the team secured some of the future by extending Everson Griffen to a four-year $58 million-dollar contract which would take on to the end of his remaining two-year deal. By developing talent they have in Barr, Kendricks and Hunter, they are also setting themselves up to extend their young players instead of having to find talent upfront via free agency.
“I’m excited, first and foremost I want to thank God, none of this is possible without him, my wife for always being there for me, Rob and Rick and my agent Brian Murphy at A1 for making this happen right before camp so I wouldn’t have to worry about it,” said Griffen on the contract extension.
Having a veteran on the front-seven that can not only help the young players, but produce is a huge asset for the Vikings, as he has been instrumental in the development of guys like Hunter. But at age 29, he still recorded 48 tackles and eight sacks in 2016, proving he will still be one of the more productive guys on the roster.
“I’m really excited about it… having a guy like that around to follow in his path, it’s something I’m really excited about and congrats to him; that’s something I like to see when hard work pays off,” Hunter said.
Now it is time to get the defense ready to carry the team, like they did early in the season. The added benefit of having the offense work together should put a lot less pressure on this defense to perform at a high-level week in, and week out, giving them more room for error. Even with the dip in production on their 3-8 finish, they still only gave up 19.2 points a game which ranked sixth-best in the NFL. The mentality of the line is still “high expectations”, as Griffen note headed into camp.
“We have tremendous athletes [in] Linval [Joseph], Tom Johnson, Danielle Hunter, hopefully Sharrif [Floyd] can get back. We have a great group of defensive linemen,” said Griffen. “That should get the job done at a high level. The biggest thing for us is coming in and working on this process of coming together and grinding as a team and come together as a unit to get where we want to go, and we could be the best, but it’s up to us. Coach Patterson always says ‘it isn’t easy being great, you’ve got to go out there each and every day to be great, and that’s what we have to do.”
This group is primed for a bounce back season and now has a significant amount of depth to make the roster truly dangerous throughout the course of an entire season, and could weather any injuries headed into the end of the year.