Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Training Camp Position Preview: Defensive Tackles

Image Courtesy of TwinCities.com

The Vikings defensive tackle group has excellent depth and is a deep portion of the roster. Daniel House previews the position and highlights areas of improvement in 2015. 

Updated: July 21st, 2015 11:00am

By: Daniel House

Last season, the Vikings signed Linval Joseph in free agency to help bolster their defensive line. He missed a portion of training camp and didn't quite provide the type of performance the coaches initially thought they would receive. Instead, Sharrif Floyd took a step forward in Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme. As a whole, the Vikings defensive tackles underachieved as run defenders. That isn't entirely their fault, but part of the blame definitely lies on their shoulders. As a team, the Vikings were ranked 25th in run defense and opposing offenses were continually moving the chains on the ground. Not only did this help opposing teams accumulate first downs, but it kept the clock running late in the game. Linval Joseph was brought to Minnesota to be the run-stuffer the Vikings have been searching for over the years. He needs to improve in this avenue and Sharif Floyd needs to stay healthy more consistently in 2015.

Aside from all of that, the Vikings do have talent at defensive tackle. Shamar Stephen provided excellent depth last season and can be counted on again this year. His focus on fundamentals and technique has really improved his ability to handle the translation to the NFL. Tom Johnson surprised everyone and was extremely successful as a rotational pass rusher. He was resigned and can continue to provide a fresh pass rush throughout games. The Vikings have great options throughout the defensive tackle depth chart and might even have two practice squad options among young players they signed. The defensive tackle group needs to improve in certain areas, but definitely has the personnel to make those strides in 2015.

Linval Joseph

In 2014 free agency, the Vikings signed Linval Joseph to help improve their run defense. A freak accident in training camp caused him to miss a portion of practices. The injured leg clearly effected his ability to plant his foot as a run defender. The Vikings need Joseph to step up in order to improve a run defense that was ranked 25th last season. Joseph needs to gain initiation at the line of scrimmage to help open gaps up for other players to make tackles in the second level of the defense. Last season, he definitely wasn't playing up to the potential we saw on tape from him when he was in New York. Perhaps a training camp without any setbacks could help get him back on track.

Sharrif Floyd

Sharrif Floyd took the next step while playing inside of Mike Zimmer's defense. Floyd refined his body before training camp and entered camp with a lean frame. He was getting off the ball much quicker and his technique was much improved. Floyd was able to use his hand placement to gain an advantage over opposing offensive lineman. This season, Floyd needs to prove he can stay healthy on a consistent basis. He missed four starts last season and was included on the injury report 13 times last year. Those numbers need to improve to the point where Floyd can be relied upon every week. He was rated as "very good" player by Pro Football Focus' depth chart ranking system. Floyd certainly will be an integral part of the interior again this season.

Tom Johnson

In 2014, Tom Johnson was signed to a one-year 'prove-it' contract in free agency. He made the most of the opportunity and was the type of rotational pass rusher the front office staff was searching for. The coaches liked him well enough to sign him to a new three-year deal worth $7 million. He corralled 6.5 sacks when he rotated into the interior of the defensive line. Of 72 qualifying defensive tackles, Pro Football Focus ranked Johnson 12th in pass-rushing efficiency. In a limited amount of time on the field (447 snaps), he still managed to notch a high amount of disruptions on the field. For a rotational defensive lineman, Johnson is providing the Vikings with the perfect 'performance-value' ratio.

Shamar Stephen

The Vikings drafted Shamar Stephen in the seventh round of the draft in 2014. Stephen saw more snaps in training camp and the preseason after Linval Joseph missed time with an injury. He didn't impress in the pass rush, but his ability to defend the run was the biggest attribute he flashed. Last year, Stephen's technique was very good and was continually improving throughout training camp. With his focus on fundamentals, the coaching staff feels they can coach him into the type of player they are searching for in the interior of the defensive line. Stephen is excellent depth and is the type of player every NFL team must have.

Chrishon Rose 

The Vikings signed Chrishon Rose to an undrafted rookie contract in 2015. Rose played in 13 games as a senior at East Carolina during the 2014 campaign, posting 41 total tackles, including 14 solo stops. At 6'4", 303 pounds, he has the frame to play defensive tackle in the NFL, but it won't be an easy journey in a jam-packed position group. He is great on tape in pursuit and he can shed blocks pretty well. He needs to gain more power as a interior defensive lineman, but he has some potential to develop.

Here is some excellent tape on Chrishon Rose:

Chigbo Anunoby

The Vikings signed Chigbo Anunoby to a futures contract this spring. Anunoby entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Indianapolis in 2012, made a stop in Washington in 2013, and spent the entire 2014 season on Tennessee’s practice squad. He played at Morehouse College and on tape, he bursted off the ball very low. He is excellent on his feet and provides a great blend of power and speed. He definitely is a developmental project, but has some talent that could be groomed. It's worth keeping an eye on players like Chrishon Rose and Anunoby to see if they could challenge for a practice squad spot this year.

As a whole, the Vikings defensive tackles need to be better in run defense and the team will be asking for consistent play from their starters. With depth at this position, the coaches can substitute frequently and keep the pass rush fresh. This group is definitely an area on the Vikings' roster that has the potential to be extremely successful this season.

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