The Minnesota Vikings will have their depth tested at defensive tackle this Sunday when they take on the Detroit Lions. Rotational player Shamar Stephen was placed on injured reserve after last Sunday’s game, ending his season, and starting tackle Sharrif Floyd has missed every practice this week with a knee/ankle injury and was ruled out for Sunday.
That means that there will likely be less rotating of players at the defensive tackle spot and Tom Johnson is likely going to get the start. Johnson re-signed with the Vikings this offseason after recording 22 tackles, 6½ sacks and a forced fumble in 2014.
He is primarily used as a pass-rushing defensive tackle along the defensive line, but he will also play full series from time to time, giving Floyd a rest. For that reason, he is not thinking his role is going to change too drastically.
“My role don’t change, man,” he said. “The only difference is I’m on first down instead of third down. It’s just business as usual, next-man-up type mentality. Go out there and do your job. You’re going to get the plays, and I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’m being productive holding down the run and then trying to get the quarterback.”
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer also doesn’t seem too worried. Johnson plays a similar game to Floyd and has been having a good season this year, so there should not be much of a drop off.
“I think Tom’s play good all year, really,” the head coach said. “He did a great job in the preseason, did a good job all year. I think we should be fine.”
With multiple defensive tackles out with injury, the worry becomes that players will have to be on the field for longer periods of times and get worn out quicker because of it.
But, once again, Johnson is not too worried about that happening. He has faith that the team’s defensive line coach, Andre Patterson, will draw up a game plan that gives everyone the rest they need.
“We’ve got a good coach in Coach Patterson, he’s going to manage the game,” Johnson said. “He’s going to know how to rotate guys in like we do every week, make sure guys stay fresh and that we’re not in a bad situation where we’re stuck out there for long drives. Like I said, it’s business as usual. We’re confident in the guys that we got that are going to step up. Nothing’s going to drop this production, we just got to go out there and try to make plays.”
When the Vikings played the Lions in Week 2 of the season, the defensive line was able to get after quarterback Matthew Stafford on a regular basis, and that was a big reason for the success the defense had. With their quarterback under regular duress, the Lions offense was never able to get anything going.
It is going to be important once again for the defense to apply that kind of pressure and Johnson has faith that they will be able to do just that. Even though they have key pieces missing along the defensive line, he believes there is still a lot of talent.
“I think everybody brings something different to the table,” he said. “Linval (Joseph) is big but he can rush, he’s powerful. You’ve got (Brian Robison) that can come down and play three-technique or whatever. I think everybody’s good. We’ve got a great group of guys that’s very talented and we’ll continue to get after the quarterback.”
Robison and Scott Crichton could become very important pieces this week against the Lions because even though they are listed as defensive ends they have the size and ability to move to the inside as well. That is something the Vikings likely will take advantage of in passing situations as a way to pressure Stafford.
“Scott can do them both,” Johnson said. “He’s big enough; he’s athletic enough to do both of them. You’re going to see a lot of guys rotating in this week, everybody’s going to have an opportunity and we’re confident in every guy that steps on the field to make plays.”
Another player that could end up having a role in this Sunday’s game is defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis. The Vikings just signed him to their active roster on Tuesday to fill the void that was left when Stephen was placed on IR.
Zimmer described him as a strong nose guard that has good quickness and moves well. The head coach also said there is a good chance Ellis can get playing time this weekend, even though he has less than a week under his belt with the team.
“That position is not a lot of learning in the system,” Zimmer said. “It’s similar to what he’s had before. He’s more learning the stunts and blitzes and things like that as opposed to the true technique of what we’re doing.”
By teaching Ellis more of what to do in stunts and blitzes, it seems as though the Vikings are once again going to be keying in on getting after Stafford as much as possible. It hurts them that Floyd is out because of his ability to rush the passer from the middle of the line, but the team should have enough rotating pieces to make up for it.