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Projecting the Vikings' 53-Man Roster: Defensive Line

Yes. . .finally, after many delays, we are back into the projection of the Minnesota Vikings' 53-man roster.  We've done the entirety of the offense and special teams, so let's review who we currently have on the team.

QB Tarvaris Jackson
QB Gus Frerotte
QB John David Booty

FB Thomas Tapeh
FB Jeff Dugan

HB Adrian Peterson
HB Chester Taylor
HB Maurice Hicks

WR Bernard Berrian
WR Sidney Rice
WR Bobby Wade
WR Aundrae Allison
WR Robert Ferguson
WR Jaymar Johnson

TE Jim Kleinsasser
TE Visanthe Shiancoe
TE Garrett Mills

OT Bryant McKinnie
OT Ryan Cook
OT Chase Johnson
OT Drew Radovich

OG Steve Hutchinson
OG Anthony Herrera
OG Artis Hicks

C Matt Birk
C John Sullivan

K Ryan Longwell

P Chris Kluwe

LS Cullen Loeffler

That's 29 spots that are occupied. . .need to find ourselves 24 more, unless my counting is bad (which wouldn't be entirely surprising).

For this installment, we're going to be looking at a unit that might be the best of its kind in the National Football League in the Vikings' defensive line.  Like most of the spots on the Vikings' roster, the top of the depth chart is pretty obvious, but I don't think there's going to be quite as much drama at the end as there are at some positions.  Here are the defensive linemen that currently find themselves in the employ of the Minnesota Vikings.

Number Name Height Weight Experience College
61 Martail Burnett 6'3" 255 UDFA Utah
66 Leger Douzable 6'5" 300 UDFA Central Florida
69 Jared Allen 6'6"  270 5 Idaho State
71 Kenderick Allen 6'5" 330 5 Louisiana State
73 Otis Grigsby 6'3" 260 4 Kentucky
90 Fred Evans 6'4" 305 3 Texas State
91 Ray Edwards 6'5" 270 3 Purdue
92 Jayme Mitchell 6'6" 285 3 Mississippi
93 Kevin Williams 6'5" 310 6 Oklahoma State
94 Pat Williams 6'3" 315 12 Texas A&M
96 Brian Robison 6'3" 275 2 Texas
97 Ellis Wyms 6'3" 290 8 Mississippi State
98 Letroy Guion 6'4" 305 R Florida State

Defensive Tackles

It still kills me to no end that someone is still trying to make us believe that Kevin and Pat Williams are approximately the same weight.  If you actually believe that Pat Williams weighs in at 315 pounds, then I've got some lovely ocean front property in Nebraska that you might be interested in making an investment in.

With all due respect to Jared Allen, who we've devoted quite a bit of bandwidth to on these pages, the men that have made the Vikings' defense go over the past two seasons are the two big men in the middle of the defensive line.  Kevin and Pat Williams are, bar none, the best defensive tackle duo in the National Football League.  Kevin is widely regarded as being one of the best all-around tackles in the league.  He hasn't gotten back to where he was in his first two seasons in terms of generating a pass rush (he generated 22 sacks in his first 2 seasons, but has only mananged 12 since then), but how much help has he really gotten in that department?  The reports are that he's lost some weight this off-season in an effort to regain some of the quickness he felt that he'd lost over the past couple of seasons, and an even quicker Kevin Williams could, in my opinion, make the subject of best all-around defensive tackle in the NFL one that's not subject to debate.

But even with as talented and athletic as Kevin Williams is, there's been a debate as to whether or not he's even the best DT on the Vikings' roster.  Or whether he's even the best DT with the surname of Williams on the Vikings' roster.  Why?  Because of the performance over the last 3 seasons of the ageless wonder known as Pat Williams.  When it comes to defensive tackles that obliterate the opposing running game, there's Pat Williams, and then there's everybody else.  He doesn't generate a lot of pass rush, but that's not really his job, and he usually comes out of the game in obvious pass rushing situations.  There are few players that opposing centers hate to see lined up across from them more than Pat Williams. . .just ask Olin Kreutz (who Pat Williams, incidentally, owns).

Now, concerning the guys that are going to back these two gentlemen up, we'll start with Fred "BZZZZZZT" Evans.  I wasn't a big fan of the Evans signing when it was first made last year (largely due to the incident which gave him that nickname there), but he proved to be an asset at the DT position rather than a detriment.  With Spencer Johnson having departed for Buffalo, Evans is pretty much the top backup DT at this point and, really, you could do much worse at that spot than Evans.

The other backup DT is more than likely going to be Letroy Guion, who was selected in the 5th round of this year's draft out of Florida State.  The Guion pick is one that was made largely based upon potential, as it was largely thought he would have been better off going back to FSU for his senior campaign to get some more seasoning.  However, as it is, he came out for the draft, and now he's a member of the Beloved Purple.  Don't let it be said that Guion doesn't have a lot of potential, because he does.  He's got good size and pretty good athletic ability.  I think he'll make the roster, even though he might be inactive a lot.  I don't think we'd be able to sneak him through waivers or anything like that.

If the Vikings DO think they can sneak Guion through waivers, that might give Kenderick Allen the opening he needs to make it onto the roster.  As you can see, Kenderick is listed as the heaviest defensive lineman on the roster (again, if you actually believe that Pat Williams only weighs 315 pounds), and has been kind of a journeyman to this point.  The Vikings are the fifth team that Allen has played for (after the Saints, Giants, Packers, and Bengals), and he didn't play at all in 2007.  It is possible that he could provide some backup to Phat Pat at the nose tackle spot, as they're both known more for their run stuffing than their pass rushing.

Ellis Wyms was an interesting pick-up for the Vikings, too.  He's the sort of guy that coaches like to have hanging around the roster, as he has the ability to play both defensive end AND defensive tackle.  With as many defensive linemen as Brad Childress likes to have available on game day, he has to appreciate that sort of flexibility.  While he doesn't stand out in any phase of the game, he puts forth a good effort, and should be able to supply some good depth along a couple of line positions.

As far as Leger Douzable. . .I'll be honest, I don't know a damn thing about him.  I thought Douzables were the little green guys from Fraggle Rock that built the little things that the Fraggles kept eating.  It appears I was wrong.  Fortunately, I don't think getting to know a lot about him will really do me (or anyone else) much good, as I don't think he'll be around terribly long.

Defensive Ends

Like I've said, we've given a lot of space to Jared Allen over the past couple of months.  Well, there's a damn good reason that that's been the case, not the least of which is that he's probably the best defensive end to suit up for this team since Chris Doleman, and he possesses Doleman-like ability.  He will single-handedly make the Vikings' pass rush among the most formidable in the National Football League, partially due to his own pass rush abilities, and partially because he'll improve everyone around him as well.  It's going to be fun watching him destroy opposing offensive tackles week in and week out, starting with Week 1.

At the other starting DE spot, Ray Edwards has had an outstanding off-season, from all accounts.  I'm guessing he feels compelled to make up for his 4-game suspension at the end of the 2007 season when the Vikings, quite frankly, could have used him.  Still, he was tied for the team lead in sacks in 2007 despite missing those four contests, and if anyone will benefit from playing next to three all-world caliber players on the defensive line, it will be Edwards.  The guy shouldn't see a double team all season long, and he's already shown he's got some pretty good pass rushing ability.  I don't know if he'll break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record (as he predicted earlier this off-season). . .or even come close. . .but he should be very interesting to watch.

Brian Robison also showed some promise in 2007, notching 5 sacks of his own to be a part of the 4-way tie for the team lead in that category.  Robison has a motor that starts as soon as he hits the field for pre-game warmups, and doesn't stop until the final gun has sounded.  He's not going to be a starter on this line, but whenever one of the two main DEs need a rest, he'll be right there, and there's no reason to think that he won't provide a quality performance.

It's hard not to cheer for a guy like Jayme Mitchell.  Like Anthony Herrera on the offensive side of the ball, Mitchell came to the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, and after a few seasons, he's a solid member of the Vikings' defensive line rotation.  Mitchell works hard, and has some skills in both the run defense department AND as a pass rusher, though he'll probably never be elite in either category.

Otis Grigsby was a pleasant surprise for the Vikings last season.  Signed off the Carolina Panthers' practice squad, he saw a decent amount of action in a few games, even notching a sack and forced fumble in the game against San Francisco.  But with the level of talent that the Vikings have along the defensive line right now, I'm not sure if Grigsby has a real chance of making the squad.

The Vikings felt compelled to give Martail Burnett the highest signing bonus of any undrafted free agent in this year's signing bonanza, so they obviously see something that they like in him.  He's not a real big guy, but the book on him says that he's a natural pass rusher.  He's someone to keep track of in the pre-season to see how things work out with him.

So, after all that, here's what I think we're looking at for the Beloved Purple on the defensive line.

Starters:  Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Ray Edwards
Backups:  Ellis Wyms, Fred Evans, Brian Robison, Jayme Mitchell, Letroy Guion, Martail Burnett
Cut:  Kenderick Allen, Leger Douzable, Otis Grigsby

To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if someone like Guion or Burnett got. . .ahem. . ."injured" during the pre-season and had to spend 2008 on injured reserve or something.  There's going to be some competition for spots along the defensive line, but this team is so good and so talented at defensive line that a few very good players are going to end up getting a visit from the Turk.  We'll just have to see which ones they are.

That's all for tonight, folks. . .we've got 39 spots on our roster filled, and 14 more to go (and, possibly, a few changes after all the smoke has cleared).  The next time we do the roster projection, we'll be looking at the linebacker position. . .where, frankly, there might be very little drama to be had.

We'll see you back here tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen!