With Linval Joseph sidelined, the Minnesota Vikings are testing their options until their big free-agent acquisition returns to action after he recovers from being shot in the calf hours after Friday night’s preseason opener.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday he thinks Joseph might be able to play later in the preseason and wants to see that happen.
“I think he probably needs to play. So when he’s ready we’ll play him,” Zimmer said. “If it’s the last preseason game or it’s sooner than that, we’ll see. We still have to find out where he’s at with his injury.”
The replacement options are many, but the most experienced among them is nose tackle Fred Evans. After eight seasons in the league, Evans played only 18 snaps Friday night, but without Joseph in the lineup for the second preseason game, Evans’ reps figure to increase.
Joseph played only nine snaps and the first-team defense sent the Oakland Raiders three-and-out on their first two series.
Evans has the versatility to play either nose tackle or the three-technique, but the responsibilities have changed from last year. That was another defensive scheme under a different head coach, coordinator and position coach.
“It’s just a different defense. You have to surrender and forget everything that you’ve been doing when you’ve accrued a lot of time,” Evans said. “I’ve got a great coach and a great defensive coordinator and we have a great defensive line coach, so I wasn’t never really worried about (roster security). You’ve just got to take the time and learn how to play their style of defense.
“I’m pretty much prepared for whatever (defensive line coach Andre Patterson) and everybody wants me to do. I just play my position and whenever my number is called I’m ready to go.”
Over the last three years, Evans has missed only two games and started four, including three last year. But this year there is plenty of competition for the backup spots at defensive tackle with the additions of rookie Shamar Stephen and veteran Tom Johnson.
“Fred did good the other night. Actually, it’s the best he’s done since we’ve had him,” Zimmer said, referring to the preseason opener. “He’s got to continue to do the things we’re asking him to do. I like Shamar. I think Shamar is going to be a very good football player. I’m not going to pigeonhole myself in saying Fred Evans is the guy, or Shamar or anybody right now, but I’ve been impressed with Shamar Stephen.”
This year, Evans has to impress a new staff, but he likes what he sees from Zimmer and his approach with the players.
“On the field, off the field. Your life. You can just tell from the different meetings and different things, he really cares about you as a person, not just your athleticism,” Evans said.
“He’s a great guy. You can tell that he really, really genuinely cares about his players first and foremost before anything. He really genuinely cares about us and he wants you to do good. Clearly, football is a performance-based profession. Everybody can’t make it at every position, but he just wants you do the best of your capability at your positon when you’re in there.”
With the addition of Stephen, who played well in his initial preseason outing, and Johnson, there is plenty of competition for a roster spot at defensive tackle. But Evans is right there in the thick of it, trying to extend his career for a ninth season in the NFL, the last seven coming with the Vikings.
With Joseph out, the next few weeks will determine what kind of a role or roster security Evans has.
“Over my whole career, I’ve never really worried about stuff like that. I’ve had some great leaders or great coaches throughout my career, including these guys,” he said. “It’s you versus you. The minute you start counting numbers or looking to see where you fit in with the depth chart, you never really know. I just do as good as I can. I really just honestly worry about Fred.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Veteran Evans working to secure roster spot
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