DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LE Ray Edwards, DT Kevin Williams, NT Pat Williams, RE Jared Allen. Backups — LE Everson Griffen, NT Jimmy Kennedy, NT Fred Evans, DT Letroy Guion, RE Brian Robison.
The Vikings had been ranked first or second in the NFL in rushing defense until this season, when they dropped to ninth. That was in part because 38-year-old Pat Williams clearly isn't the run-stopper he was a few years back. Allen and Edwards combined for 19 sacks, including 11 by Allen, but the pass rush didn't provide the consistency it did in 2009 when the Vikings led the league with 48 sacks. The Vikings finished with 31 as a team this season, tying for 20th in the NFL. Edwards, Pat Williams and Evans will be free agents and are expected to depart. Robison will be a free agent as well and has been used as a situational pass rusher. He could return and compete with Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010, for the starting job at left end. Guion could get a shot at the starting nose tackle spot. Kennedy likely will remain as a backup.
LINEBACKERS: Starters — SLB Chad Greenway, MLB E.J. Henderson, WLB Ben Leber. Backups — SLB Heath Farwell, SLB Kenny Onatolu, MLB Jasper Brinkley, WLB Erin Henderson.
Greenway and Leber both stand to become free agents this offseason and it's expected the Vikings will work extremely hard to keep Greenway. Greenway led the Vikings in tackles this season and also had a sack, 14 tackles for a loss and three pass breakups. The Vikings' first-round pick in 2006, Greenway is due for a big second contract and likely will get it in Minnesota. Leber has been a solid linebacker since joining the Vikings as a free agent in 2006 but he rarely plays in nickel situations and likely will be deemed expandable. E.J. Henderson returned after suffering a broken leg in December 2009 and started all 16 games, finishing second on the Vikings in tackles. Henderson's recovery was remarkable and it will be interesting to see if his play improves next season after he has had more time to recover. Farwell and Onatolu are special-teams standouts. It's unclear if Erin Henderson has a future as a linebacker in this league. Brinkley could push E.J. Henderson for the starting job in the middle, especially if Brinkley improves his pass-coverage skills. Brinkley took over for Henderson at the end of the 2009 season and has proven himself to be a big hitter in the middle.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Antoine Winfield, RCB Cedric Griffin, SS Husain Abdullah, FS Madieu Williams. Backups — CB Asher Allen, CB Chris Cook, CB Lito Sheppard, CB Frank Walker, SS Jamarca Sanford, SS Tyrell Johnson, FS Eric Frampton.
The Vikings have issues in the secondary in part because of injuries and because of a simple lack of production. Winfield, a very solid 12-year veteran, played inside in the nickel most of this season and might be best suited for that spot as his career nears its end. Griffin returned in Week 3 after suffering a torn left ACL in the NFC title game last season and proceeded to tear his right ACL in Week 5 against the Jets. He missed the rest of the year, leaving Allen as the starter for much of the time at the right corner spot. Cook also looked to be a promising draft pick but ended up having surgery on both knees after he tore both his meniscuses at different points of the season. Cook landed on injured reserve near the end of the season. Sheppard and Walker were forced into action at the left corner in the nickel defense but both are free agents and could be gone. Abdullah won the starting job at strong safety in training camp and had a solid but not spectacular season. Williams, meanwhile, continued to be inconsistent and took bad angles on tackles. Sanford stepped in for Williams late in the season when the latter was injured and is a big hitter. It's not clear if the coaching staff has the confidence to use him as a starter. Johnson, a second-round pick in 2008, could get another shot now that Childress is gone. Frampton, who will be a free agent, is on the roster because of his abilities on special teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Ryan Longwell, P Chris Kluwe, KR Percy Harvin, PR Greg Camarillo, LS Cullen Loeffler.
Longwell remains extremely reliable on field goals, making 17 of 18 this season, but the veteran will be a free agent and it's not clear if the Vikings will try to retain him. The Vikings could decide to sign a less expensive kicker but there is little doubt they would miss Longwell. Kluwe had a solid season, averaging 43 yards gross and 38.9 net on 83 punts. The coaching staff was more interested in Kluwe giving his coverage units time to get down field than they were with booming the ball. Loeffler remains an extremely reliable long snapper. Harvin is a dynamic kickoff returner (23.3-yard average) but was replaced by Lorenzo Booker late in the season after Harvin missed time because of migraines. Camarillo averaged 9.2 yards on punt returns but proved to be reliable in hanging onto the ball.
Moving forward: Vikings defensive analysis
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