A couple years ago I started to see people around DN float the idea of a 3-4 defense for the Minnesota Vikings. At that time I scoffed at the idea and shamed those fans for not appreciating the depth and quality of the Vikings defensive line. After the last couple seasons this impression hasn't totally changed. I don't think the Vikings will or should switch to a 3-4 front, especially considering the coach's background and beliefs. But then again if there was a time to switch doing so after a season like this one would seem to be the right time. It may not be as crazy as I once thought.
ow I will admit that I am not a die hard fan, or a fan of the Vikings at all. I don't know the roster quite as well as any of you do as well. But I'm going to respectfully throw out some ideas for a switch and see what catches your attention. If I missed something or you disagree with my analysis of a player or position group let me know. After the jump I'll give a quick look to the positions commonly needed in a base 3-4 (no weird 2-4-5 packages in this piece) and how the Vikings current personnel fit these requirements.
The Defensive Line.
This is one of the easier things for the Vikings to fill given their current roster. The Vikings have done a good job of getting athletic big men who can shoot the gap and move the pocket if necessary or be able to seal the edge to stop the run. Williams and Ballard would be great starters in this line up with Guion spelling them and adding a good rotation.
Nose tackle. Players who could fit this: None.
Maybe I'm being harsh here, but watching the Vikings this year and following the comments from various DNer's suggests to me that a NT is needed. No one has replaced Pat Williams and so the Vikings don't have that big man who can anchor the line and get pressure off the three techniques and allow them to get the push inside. In a 4-3 this can be a serious problem, with a 3-4 this can collapse the entire defense. If the Vikes were to make the swtich they would need an unselfish two gaper to bang on the offensive line and free up the LB's or the 5 tech's to make the plays needed. Otherwise teams are going to run it straight down the gut on this defense all day long.
What better way to get value out of the big contract Greenway just got then to put him in the middle of the defense, let him call the plays, and give him more of a playmaking responsibility as an ILB in a 3-4? Him and Erin Henderson would be good at blitzes and going downhill to stuff the run. He still might be a liability in coverage, but allowing some of the OLB's and safeties to help should reduce some of problems that arise if any. This also could help the transition of E.J. Henderson. His main problem right now is that he doesn't have the top speed in order to cover in the Tampa 2 and get that deep middle under control. In this defense can specialize a bit more and focus on what he does best, stuff the short stuff, and allow the other ILB to compensate for what he is struggling with at the moment.
There really are two positions groups that have a hard time making the switch, guys going from a 1 or 3 technique to a NT and those going from DE to OLB. Really the switch takes the guys out of their comfort zones and asks them to do something they may not want to do or really can do well. One of the biggest shames of Green Bay's switch to a 3-4 was that it basically ended Aaron Kampman's time as a Packer. He couldn't get use to standing up rather than his normal three point stance and he never looked that great in coverage. It would be hard to see something similar happen in Minnesota with Jared Allen. Really if he is not on board with this sort of switch it shouldn't be done. If he is on board he has the potential to be a pretty darn good OLB, but it's very tough to tell and it takes a guy willing to buy into scheme and position he is tasked to play.
Do you know who I think would be a great OLB though? Everson Griffen. The dude has the athleticism and pass rush ability to be a force at that position. He would leave offenses guessing what he is going to do and be able to bring the amount of meanness necessary to really make plays happen. Hell, if you are that size and able to be a gunner you can play OLB in my book.
Secondary: No real change.
The secondary of the 3-4 isn't that different from the secondary of the 4-3. The main changes would be needing more playmaking ability out of the safeties and possibly a bit more versatility out of the corners. Here's what I mean by that....
Right now it seems like the Vikings are targeting guys at corner who are big and strong. Makes a ton of sense in the current Tampa 2 system that relies on getting receivers off their routes with jamming them at the line and then settling into zones. The Vikings might need to get a bit more speed at the corner position and get guys who can either play man or zone, but then again I may be way off on this.
Similarly it could be a good idea to get a bit more punch at Safety for this switch. Since a 3-4 defense is built on unpredictability and playmakers all over the field, having a safety that can ball hawk or headhunt down in the box can go a long way. Another possibility for this is allowing Winfield to do this in a Charles Woodson like role if Winfield can come back healthy.
Now as I said before this is just one outsiders perception of what a switch may look like. Please feel free to tell me how wrong I am and where the flaws in the plan lie. I highly doubt the Vikes would make that switch, especially with a Tampa 2 disciple like Fraiser as head coach, but you never know what teams decide to do in this copy cat league.