DL rotation: New-look Vikings vs. Bengals

The Vikings' concentration in free agency was clear: address the defensive line in both the type of player and number of options. They have given themselves flexibility for better rotation, but how does what they've done in years past compare to the Bengals last year?

For years, former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier or defensive coordinator Alan Williams would stand at the podium in the media tent at training camp and talk about how they had to rotate the defensive linemen more.

That would result in a pilgrimage of reporters to ask Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams about ceding playing time to younger players. Their reaction varied slightly, but the general consensus was that they wanted to be on the field as much as possible.

"I'm a firm believer: You put the best ones out there. If you're good enough to be the starter, you're the starter. And I've always been a firm believer in that," Allen said during training camp last year. "You have to have depth because of injuries. You have to have depth because guys do get tired. You can't expect a 315-pound guy to play 80 snaps a game. I understand that.

"My philosophy is when you start rotating left tackles, you can start rotating me. It's always been that way. But we have a good group, we have a competitive group and it's a good problem to have. We have three D-ends that are starters in this league. I really believe that. That will be up to coach to make the decision and guys to handle it how they handle it. We have the ability to fill in pass-rush wise and do some things that are pretty special. It can all look good now. It has to all work out and be functional, right?"

As it turned out, the Vikings didn't rotate much for Allen. Last year, he played in 90.5 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps, according to NFL game statistics. It was the highest percentage of snaps played by a Vikings defensive lineman. Fellow defensive end Brian Robison was next at 84 percent.

But with the interior of the defensive line, the Vikings were much more liberal with their rotation.

Kevin Williams played 61.6 percent of the snaps and Everson Griffen, who rotated between end and tackle, played in 59.8 percent. Letroy Guion, the starting nose tackle, played in only 33.3 percent of the snaps, supporting Allen's theory that the bigger guys aren't going to play as much.

The other two main defensive tackles used in the rotation, Fred Evans and Sharrif Floyd, played in 29.9 percent and 39.4 percent, respectively.

We examine this now because Vikings general manager Rick Spielman made a point to say how much new head coach Mike Zimmer believes in rotating his defensive linemen.

"(The coaching staff's) philosophy is we want to try to get as many good defensive linemen in here as possible and they really believe in the rotation and getting those guys in and out of the games to keep them fresh as well," Spielman said. "So as many quality guys as we can put together, we're going to definitely do that."

But looking at the Cincinnati Bengals' rotation of defensive linemen last year with Zimmer as the coordinator, it shows a similar pattern to what the Vikings had last year.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap played even a higher percentage of snaps (91.1) than Allen, and fellow defensive end Michael Johnson played more (88.5) than Robison. Wallace Gilberry also played in 49.9 percent of the Bengals' defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

The main difference is that the Bengals' big nose tackle, Domata Peko, played far more snaps than Guion for the Vikings. Peko played in 62.7 percent of the snaps, almost twice the percentage of Guion. Geno Atkins, who played only nine games because of injury, still played in 44 percent of the snaps, and Brandon Thompson was in for 37.3 percent of the snaps, according to PFF.

So how will the Vikings' new nose tackle, Linval Joseph, hold up? Last year with the New York Giants, he played in almost 55 percent of their defensive snaps, much close to Peko's extended duty than Guion's part-time position.

With Tom Johnson and Corey Wootton also part of the Vikings' overhauled defensive line, the conclusion here is that Robison likely will have a similar percentage of snaps to last year, with Wootton and Griffen offering the option to slide inside on passing downs for Joseph.

After a very active free agency on the defensive line, the Vikings certainly have the depth to employ a more consistent rotation. How that all pans out remains to be seen.


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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