With so much focus last year on improving the Vikings’ perennially low-ranking pass defense, that part of Mike Zimmer’s defense came around quickly and improved to No. 7 in the NFL. However, the run defense was only 25th, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
“I think it’s big-time for us. We realize that in some games if we would have stopped the run a little bit better, it would have allowed us to pin our ears back and get after the passer,” said defensive end Brian Robison, who started alongside the Williams Wall for years. “That’s going to be one big-time emphasis for us this camp is to make sure we get better in our run game – that’s defensive line, linebacker, safety, cornerbacks – it’s the whole defense as a unit. We’ve got to make sure we get better at it.”
The Vikings spent their first-round pick on cornerback Trae Waynes, but their picks in the next two rounds were middle linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Danielle Hunter. Yet much of the improvement will have to come from within, from players that were with the Vikings last year, too.
Nose tackle Linval Joseph has had a full offseason in Zimmer’s defense. Last preseason, he was shot in the leg, hindering his availability and then effectiveness early on. This year, he’s excited about the possibilities, especially in stopping the run.
“Since we came back from OTAs, that’s been the emphasis. We call it small ball – everybody has to do their job and nobody try to take the home run hit,” he said. “Your play is going to come to you when you have to make your play.”
Robison’s role may have switched slightly last year as holdover Vikings defenders transitioned from Leslie Frazier’s defense to Zimmer’s brand. Now the concepts aren’t so overwhelming, with big strides anticipated in the second season.
“Absolutely. Once you get to know a guy, you get to know your coaches, things like that, you know what to expect coming into the second year,” Robison said. “I think we kind of know how the flow of things is going to go throughout this training camp and I think we’ll be better for it because now that we know what to expect we can just get right at it and not go through all the teaching steps and stuff like that.”
The players may be excited for the future, but they realize the work has to be put in now to enjoy and success down the road.
“You’re going to have to wait and see what this defense is about this year, but to me this is a good attack defense,” Joseph said.
“You might see everything. I can’t say, but you’ve got to see.”