Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Scott Crichton has had a tough go of things during his first couple seasons in the NFL. He was drafted in the third round in 2014 season as a defensive end, but rarely saw the field during the season. After the season, he said that he thought he would play more, but was focused on improving during the offseason.
Crichton’s role increased some last season as he played in every phase of special teams, but he still didn’t get much work on the defensive side of the ball. The coaching staff decided to see how he would do sliding inside to play as the three-technique defensive tackle in nickel formations and passing situations.
His second season in the NFL got cut short, though, when he was placed on injured reserve for the final four games of the regular season. He then missed some time during the 2016 organized team activities and minicamp, but he is back out on the field in training camp looking to earn a spot and he knows that all starts with remaining healthy.
“I just got to stay healthy. I just got to stay true to the process,” Crichton said. “I’ve just got to stay healthy, that’s the big thing for me right now. Getting a little banged up here and there, but the main thing right now for me is health, so I can get out on the field.”
When he has been out on the field, Crichton has continued to work as a defensive tackle. Turns out Vikings coaches were happy with what they saw from him in that role last year, and they say it was actually the role they envisioned him playing all along.
They like the way he is willing to do the dirty work out on the field. He has a good motor and was a very productive player in college. They are now just hoping that all of that can translate to the field at the professional level.
“When we drafted him, we thought he might be an end with moving in on nickel rush ability,” said head coach Mike Zimmer, “but I think he’s more inclined to be an all-the-time inside player that can slide out once in awhile.”
Both Zimmer and Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson have been happy with the way Crichton has been handling the transition so far, but they were interested to see how he holds up with the pads, a process that started Sunday afternoon practice. He had arguably the best pass-rush move of the defensive linemen in the one-on-one drills against the offensive linemen Sunday afternoon.
Playing defensive tackle is a whole different animal than defensive end because there are a lot more bodies and things tend to happen a lot quicker. Crichton has been getting a little taste of it in practice and he can already tell the interior of the line is no laughing matter.
“There’s a lot of bodies, a lot more double teams than defensive end, more gritty,” he explained. “It’s real down there. There’s no pretty job down there, so I just have to adjust.”
He’ll have to adjust rather quickly because Patterson said that he is planning on keeping Crichton at defensive tackle for the entirety of camp, and Zimmer believes that his best chance to make the team. That means he might be looking for work elsewhere, when it’s time for the team to slim down their roster, if he can’t adjust sooner rather than later, but he said he feels no pressure on him.
But Patterson seems to have confidence in Crichton making the transition. The experience he gained playing the position last season should help move things along for him, and the defensive line coach believes that Crichton has the quickness and suddenness needed to be successful along the interior of the line. The biggest question will be if he has the strength necessary to lock down a double team, which they should be finding out soon enough.
“The contact happens so much faster. The movement from side to side happens so much faster, and at end you could go five plays in a row and really not hit anybody if they ran away from you,” Patterson began. “At D-tackle you’re hitting somebody every single play and handling double-team blocks also. You’re going to end up having 600 pounds laying on you, so that’s going to be the deal. To see, when they come out and double team him, can he anchor enough to hold a double-team block.”
Crichton may have to put on some more weight to help him in that area of the game, as he currently measures in at 6-foot-3, 273 pounds. But a good performance at training camp will go a long way in his development as a defensive tackle and it could be the thing that revitalizes his career.