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Mankato 2011: Let's Talk D-Line and Secondary

The morning walk thru, quite frankly, is really, really boring.  Because when I say 'walk thru', that's all they do.

It's very much an offense and defense installation, with the last half of the practice special teams...where the kickers don't kick and the punters don't punt.  So let's go back to yesterday, and talk about the defensive line and the secondary.

The defensive line, quite frankly, is whipping the offensive line right now, but in some ways, that's to be expected.  For whatever reason, defenses are usually ahead of offenses in the first part of training camp, and the Vikings offense is installing a new system.  One of the concerns a lot of us have is the defensive line and the secondary.  Well, on this play at least, the defensive line was just fine, thank you very much:

The defense is ahead of the offense, at least for now

Along with the d-line, the secondary has us almost in a state of apoplexy.  Madieu Williams is gone, and it looks like the VIkes will go with Husain Abdullah, Jamarca Sanford, or Tyrell Johnson as the safeties.  Towards the end of last season, the best combination of the three was probably Sanford and Abdullah, but that is far from a lock so far this year.

And Antoine Winfield?  He's staying at corner, and might see some more time in the slot at nickel, as long as Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin stay healthy.

After the jump, I've got some quotes from Robison, Winfield, and Johnson, and get their take on how things are shaping up.

If there is a concern about the turnover on the defensive line, Brian Robison isn't concerned about it.  He spent the off-season doing some MMA to keep in shape, and he's impressed with the guys on the defensive line.

"We've got some young guys that are working very hard right now.  Letroy's (Guion) doing very well, we've got Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans is back.  We've got guys that can fill in and not necessarily replace Kevin Williams, but guys that can get in and get the job done and let us roll off a few early season wins, and when we get Kevin back we'll pick up where we left off."

One guy that won't be back has been mainstay Pat Williams, and his replacement, at least at this stage of camp, is Remi Ayodele.  Robison likes what he sees in the former Saints nose tackle.

"I think he's doing real well.  He's picking things up real quick, asking a lot of questions to make sure he's getting things right."

And based on the play I've seen during the practice so far, there's a lot of accuracy in what Robison says.  Jared Allen has been the most impressive guy at camp so far, at least defensively.

One of the least impressive units last year was the defensive secondary.  Aside from the play of Antoine Winfield, the Vikings were devastated with injuries and mediocre safety play, and by the end of the year, it was cringe-inducing watching the DB's try and make a play.

But a new year brings new optimism, and Winfield sees a better unit, and a more expanded role for him.  When asked how he sees the secondary shaping up, Winfield thinks they'll be a good unit.

"We'll have the same faces at corner, but at safety we'll have Husain Abdullah, who did a great job for us last year, and I'm sure it will be between Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford (for the other safety position).  So we've got some good competition, some good depth (now that everyone is healthy), so I think we'll be pretty good."

Early on in camp, the Vikings have been playing Winfield both on the outside and at the nickel, and when asked what he likes best, Winfield said

I love being on the inside.  I've been doing that since my freshman year in college [ed was THE Ohio State University] where I can play more like a linebacker, which plays to my strength--coming up making tackles."

At that point we were interrupted briefly by head coach Leslie Frazier.  As he walked by he smiled, pointed at Winfield, and said "pound for pound the best in the league."

Winfield laughed and appreciated the compliment, but that's no joke.  Pound for pound, Winfield probably is the best defensive player in the NFL.  When he goes to make a tackle, it's perfect form every time, and when Winfield has his sights on someone, they rarely get away.  He is extremely valuable to the Vikings not only as a pass defender, but also as a run stopper.

The Vikings are not entertaining moving Winfield to safety, because they value him too much at the CB position, and putting him back there would remove one of his great strengths, which is making tackles at the line of scrimmage.  I think the Vikings would make two positions worse by doing that, so expect to see Winfield more on the inside this year, if everyone stays healthy.

As for the safeties, Sanford and Abdullah weren't all that bad last year when they were in the lineup, and it looks like that when the first team defense takes the field, those are the guys that are lining up in the safety position.  So far, their play has been unremarkable, but the offense really hasn't tested them deep much. 

Remember, tonight at 7 pm is the practice/scrimmage under the lights a Blakeslee Stadium on the campus of Minnesota State.  The Vikings aren't doing a traditional scrimmage, but they will be doing a lot of situational stuff, and there will be lots of stuff for kids and families, along with a fireworks dsplay after the practice.

And The Daily Norseman will be there, live tweeting, and we'll recap it late tonight or early tomorrow.