The sidelining of Linval Joseph provided a big opportunity for another big guy.
With Joseph out of action for three weeks of the preseason after being shot in the calf in a nightclub shooting, rookie Shamar Stephen got extended time to prove himself with the first- and second-team defenses. Stephen got more time than a seventh-round pick otherwise might have.
“When somebody is down, the next guy is up and he’s got to come in. We don’t want a drop off in performance,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “There’s a young guy, a prime example, that has come in here and worked his butt off all through the offseason, all through training camp and now it’s starting to show in his play.”
In the preseason opener, Joseph got only nine snaps with the first-team defense before his night was done. Stephen got 31, and over the next three weeks it only increased. In the second preseason game, Stephen had 41 snaps, and even in the third preseason game, when the starters got the most action, Stephen garnered 34 snaps. He finished the preseason with the same amount of snaps. In all, he had 140 snaps in the preseason, a healthy dose of action for a rookie.
The progress showed. He learned to trust himself and the techniques he was learning, said the 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive tackle.
“Definitely more technique and just being able to trust your technique and trust the scheme that you’re playing in and make sure you can be consistent in your technique and be able to play off of it,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s any different than I’ve played in college. I think it’s just being able to play the technique and be able to produce out of the technique and just do your job.”
The Vikings turned down offers to trade away their first of three seventh-round picks in the draft, preferring to pick what they termed a big guy that can run with the 220th pick overall and they are glad they stuck with it.
“He did some good things. We played him at the three-technique, we played him at the nose, and for a guy who really hadn’t got a lot of reps at the three (technique) we thought he did a good job of what we were asking call-wise, technically, fundamentally,” Edwards said. “He held up pretty good in there.”
Good enough that Vikings released one of their primary backups at nose tackle for the last seven years, Fred Evans. Stephen said he was “a little nervous” when the Vikings made the final cuts, but he had been gaining confidence throughout the offseason and preseason.
He had also been amassing strength, an all-important facet of playing nose tackle, especially for a rookie.
“I’m definitely working on my strength and I just want to be able to be a force and be able to not get knocked back and be able to move people,” he said. “I’m definitely trying to get stronger and I’m still working on my strength. But it’s definitely key for me. It’s definitely improved since I came here in (offseason practices). I feel good right now and I’m going to keep working on it.”
“It’s basically all the Olympic lifts. You want to have a stronger upper body and stronger lower body and be explosive. I think it’s all the big Olympic lifts and not getting knocked back.”
Stephen said it’s hard to put on a number on his increased strength because the lift regimen changes once the games start, but he definitely feels stronger. Now he feels he can hold up at nose tackle.
“I think I’m pretty stout, so I don’t think I’m worried about that,” he said. “Playing at Connecticut, I was a very stout player so I wasn’t really worried about weight and size. I was just more worried about playing my technique and being able to play in the scheme.”
Confidence was the key. He spent the offseason learning new techniques from Joseph, Sharrif Floyd and Tom Johnson, the other defensive tackles that made the final roster, as well as position coach Andre Patterson.
Getting all those reps during the preseason gave him ample opportunity to put the techniques into action.
“I definitely learned a lot, just being able to play blocking schemes and push back,” Stephen said. “Coach Patterson definitely helped me out, too, just knowing when to trust my hands and be confident in my play and be able to play off that.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Stephen gained valuable preseason experience
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