The numbers: Last year—9. Current count—16. Projection this year—9.
The candidates: Jared Allen, Chase Baker, Christian Ballard, Everett Dawkins, Fred Evans, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Letroy Guion, Lawrence Jackson, Marquis Jackson, George Johnson, Anthony McCloud, D'Aundre Reed, Brian Robison, Collins Ukwu, Kevin Williams.
The locks: Allen, Guion, Williams, Robison, Griffen, Floyd, Evans.
The sleeper: Johnson went from signing with the practice squad in November to getting some snaps in regular season games in December. His solid showing at the end of the last year could have him in position for a full-time roster spot this year.
The longshot: It doesn't get much more daunting for an undrafted rookie like Marquis Jackson than facing Allen, Robison, Griffen, Lawrence Jackson and Johnson in front of him, which is why Marquis Jackson's best hope is the practice squad.
The analysis: The Vikings will have a lot of options with the final spots on their defensive line. Allen, Robison and Williams are the easily named returning starters. Griffen will be the primary backup for Allen and Robison at end, and Guion, Evans and Floyd will all see time rotating often at tackle alongside and behind Kevin Williams. That leaves only one or two spots, depending on how the positional numbers break down, for the next level of talent, like Lawrence Jackson and D'Aundre Reed at end, and Christian Ballard and Everett Dawkins at tackle.
Jared Allen: If Allen can rebound from an injury-riddled 2012 and return to his place among the top pass rushers in the league, he will be set up nicely for his next contract, whether that's in Minnesota or elsewhere.
Kevin Williams: In what is likely his swan song with the Vikings, Williams is still a viable starter and could be looking to put a solid year on film for the opportunity with another team in 2014.
Brian Robison: Like many of the top defensive ends on the roster, Robison is in a contract year. And, like Allen, he is coming off one his most frustrating seasons as far as injuries. A healthy year could be a lucrative year, too.
Letroy Guion: He is the incumbent starter at nose tackle but will be challenged by Evans for that spot and playing time. Last year, Guion played in 43 percent of the defensive snaps and Evans 30 percent. The rest of the time they were replaced by pass rushers.
Sharrif Floyd: One of those pass rushers could be Floyd. Although the plan is to start rotating him behind Williams, Floyd could end up beside him on some passing downs if he shows that ability in the preseason.
Everson Griffen: Griffen could set himself up to become a starter in 2014 if he continues to become more consistent. The Vikings will have to make a decision between him, Allen and Robison, as they are all in the final year of their contracts.
Fred Evans: Evans admits he is angling for a starting role and he performed well as Guion's backup in 2012. This is the only legitimate competition for a starting spot on the defensive line.
Lawrence Jackson: The free-agent signee is looking forward to getting back to playing a more traditional brand of defensive end in a 4-3 set. He felt Detroit's scheme had him lining up too far outside, so this is his opportunity to re-establish himself after signing a one-year deal with the Vikings.
Christian Ballard: You might not think it, but Ballard played in 33 percent of the defensive snaps in 2012. However, that could change with Floyd joining the team as a first-round pick. Will that mean Ballard's roster spot is in jeopardy?
George Johnson: He didn't get much of a chance to prove himself last year, but he took full advantage in the last two games with Robison limited because of injury. Johnson enters camp squarely on the bubble.
Everett Dawkins: The rookie will have to work on his technique, but he could make things interesting with a strong preseason. At worst, he is a viable practice squad candidate. At best, he could be on the bubble of the 53-man roster.
D'Aundre Reed: Reed has spent the past two years with the Vikings, but he is facing more competition than ever. Johnson was more of a factor late last year and the team added veteran Lawrence Jackson. Last year, Reed played in only six games. He'll need to have a great preseason to stay with the team.
Chase Baker: He was never able to establish himself beyond the practice squad last year and the addition of rookies Dawkins and McCloud puts his status there in jeopardy.
Anthony McCloud: He showed some promise, but also looked raw at times, in offseason practices. That's often the story for undrafted rookies, and it puts him in position to fight for a spot on the practice squad.
Collins Ukwu: He started 35 games for Kentucky, but his only shot with a team deep with defensive ends is to hope for the practice squad and see what happens in the next year with the contracts ahead of him.
Marquis Jackson: He played at Portland State and Texas Southern, but his chances of sticking in the NFL appear remote. It will take an impressive preseason for him to even find a spot on the practice squad.
The projection: Allen, Williams, Evans, Robison, Griffen, Guion, Jackson, Floyd, Ballard.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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