Monday, July 7, 2014

Training Camp Position Preview: Defensive Tackle

Daniel House analyzed the Vikings defensive tackle position and explains why one off-season addition could be enough to propel this group to the next level. 

Updated: July 7th, 2014 11:23am

By: Daniel House

As I discussed in the defensive end preview, the Vikings defensive line has witnessed plenty of new blood during this off-season. The team turned their attention towards addressing the interior of a defensive line that has disappointed in recent years. Vikings legend Kevin Williams signed with the Seattle Seahawks, after spending 11 seasons in Minnesota. The Vikings will be heavily rotating defensive lineman to keep legs fresh, in an effort to rush the quarterback and stop the run.  To find players that fit his scheme, head coach Mike Zimmer turned to the draft and free agency to address this weakness. Who did the team add to the fold? Let's take a look.

Linval Joseph: Joseph was arguably the biggest free agent signing for the Vikings during the 2014 off-season. The Vikings have been searching for a solid nose tackle since the days Pat Williams clogged rushing holes. They were looking for a replacement and they found one with Linval Joseph. He can play nose or in the traditional aspect of the 4-3 defense, Joseph has the versatility to play in the three-techinque. Joseph is a top-five run stopper, but he has the athletic ability to rush the passer as well. His presence in the middle of the defense will almost certainly improve the Vikings run defense.

Sharrif Floyd: Floyd didn't get many reps in games during the 2014 season, but now the former first-round draft pick will be thrown into the starting role. During his time on the field, he was up and down, but the new coaching staff has been quick to praise his early efforts. During the off-season, he toned his body and eliminated fat, while gaining muscle. Many fans were quick to jump and claim Floyd as a bust, but this opinion is far from true. With a new coaching staff in the fold, Floyd has a system that better fits his athletic skill-set. In the new defense, it will be very interesting to see his role and the relationship he develops with Linval Joseph in the middle of the defensive line.

Fred Evans: The Vikings resigned Fred Evans during the off-season and he is the only defensive tackle that has saw significant playing time in the last few years. Evans has proven himself as a solid rotational run defender. In the event an injury occurs, he is able to fill the void and provide substantial depth at the defensive tackle position. The only reason Evans will be challenged to make the team is if the Vikings choose the youth movement method and a player like Chase Baker squeaks his way onto the roster. This isn't completely out of the realm and could be a quiet battle to watch during training camp.

Chase Baker: Baker is one of the few names you may recognize at this position that remain from the 2013 group. He has only played in five games during his tenure with the Vikings and the majority of this time has come when the Vikings season has been over. He has shown flashes as a rotational player that has solid athletic ability on the defensive line. It won't be an easy battle, but Baker has a great chance to be the fourth defensive tackle on the roster.

Tom Johnson: Johnson was signed as a free agent this off-season from the New Orleans Saints. He has plenty of experience in the three-techinque and can be position flexible. He played in 40 games for the Saints in three seasons and has plenty of NFL knowledge. He has a nice frame, along with solid athletic ability that compliments his stature very nicely. He will be in a nice battle with Fred Evans and Chase Baker for the rotational defensive tackle spot.

Shamar Stephen: Stephen is a seventh-round draft pick from the Vikings 2014 draft class. He has experience in the middle of the defense and spent time in this role at the University of Connecticut. He can play in the three-technique and with work, he could play in the nose tackle role as well. Stephen will have stiff competition, but could be a solid practice squad option.

Isame Faciane: I talked with Faciane in June about his journey to the Vikings as an undrafted free agent. He worked with Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson at Florida International and understands the type of things he will be looking for from a defensive tackle. Faciane went under the scouting radar during the NFL draft process and has great size, along with the ability to line up at nose tackle or as a three-technique defensive tackle. Don't be surprised if he causes a little steam to roll at training camp and makes a charge for a roster or practice squad spot.

Kheeston Randall: Randall signed a futures/reserve contract at the end of last year and doesn't have significant NFL experience. Randall spent time with the Bengals and Dolphins, before landing with the Vikings at the end of the season. He will have to show capable strides at a fast pace, but with a solid training camp and preseason, anything can happen.

As a whole, heading into training camp, the Vikings only locks at defensive tackle are Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Tom Johnson, Fred Evans, and Chase Baker will be battling for the final two defensive tackle spots. As for Stephen, Faciane, and Randall, they could make a charge for the fourth spot, but the practice squad seems to be their most logical designation.

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