Stephen looking forward to start if needed

With Sharrif Floyd working through a knee injury, the Vikings might have to call on seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen to make the start.

Sharrif Floyd, one of the defensive tackles for the Minnesota Vikings, may have to sit out against the Green Bay Packers because of an aggravated knee. He did not practice either Thursday or Friday and was limited on Wednesday after banging knees with a teammate. With crutches seen leaning up against his locker, it appears his starting roll on the defensive line might be passed over to seventh-round draft pick Shamar Stephen.

Filling in for Floyd would be a big job for the young rookie, as Floyd has been one of the top performers on defense of late. He has recorded 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks this year, compared to Stephen’s 12 tackles and no sacks. The stats don’t really matter for these players, though, as they have always had the view of the next man up.

As much as it might hurt to have an All-pro running back like Adrian Peterson getting suspended, an offensive lineman getting injured, a linebacker shelved or the defensive line suffering a blow, the message has always been the same. The team expects the next player in line to step up and perform at a high level.

“We are just going to pick up where we left off,” Stephen said. “The thing is, (Floyd) has done a great job for us, and if he plays he plays, if he doesn’t he doesn’t. But at the same time I just got to come in if he doesn’t play, and go to work and do my job.”

Missing a starter is always a blow to a team, but the thing that might hurt them more is that it messes up their defensive line rotation. The starters are usually Everson Griffen and Brian Robison at defensive ends, and Floyd and Linval Joseph at defensive tackles. Then Corey Wooten and Scott Crichton will rotate in at defensive end, and Stephen and Tom Johnson will rotate in at defensive tackle.

Having Floyd out of the lineup means that Johnson is the only defensive tackle left to rotate, meaning Joseph and Stephen could be getting more worn out than the starters normally would. Facing a quarterback as talented as Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings want to be able to apply pressure with just their four down linemen as much as possible, leaving as many players in coverage as possible.

“I don’t think it would hurt per se,” Stephen said about missing Floyd. “But, I mean, it’s definitely different then because he is definitely a key player in the pass rush. I know he has a few sacks in him, so we’re missing a good player if he doesn’t play.”

When its all said and done, whether the Vikings win or lose, it will be a big moment for Stephen, the seventh-round draft pick from the University of Connecticut. Getting his first start is something that he is clearly looking forward to.

“It would be a pretty good feeling,” Stephen said. “Working all through camp, working OTAs, so to get my first start would be pretty exciting.”


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