Film work, evaluation, and scouting are the basics that every team in the league goes through during this time of the year. Add a new defensive coordinator to the mix of a defense that is believed to have under-produced, and you have the makings of a busy offseason.
Through the early portion of the evaluation process, the Minnesota Vikings organization is quickly identifying which parts of the 2003 roster and play on the field can be upgraded. From the defensive scheme to players along the defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs, change is in the winds of Minnesota.
While the focus has been on the Vikings' inability to stop the run consistently — with the same concerns prevalent against the pass — the defensive changes are underway in Minnesota.
"The evaluation process started soon after the conclusion of the season, much of which reaffirms and confirms some of the questions raised by the coaching staff throughout the season," a team source said. "We have identified areas along the defensive line, at some of the linebacker spots, and in the defensive backfield we would like to address."
Obtaining additional talent and scheming the defense to the strength of the players is one issue the team hopes to address this offseason. Much of the burden to improve the team defense falls onto head coach Mike Tice, director of college scouting Scott Studwell and director of pro scouting Paul Wiggin.
Pressure to identify talent, secure free-agent players, and select college talent is at an all-time high in Minnesota, as the organization has reached a critical time in its growth process.
"Looking at the present roster, we are looking for additional help at the defensive end positions. With Chris Hovan and Kevin Williams on the inside we are in good shape, but we are looking to gain some talent to help this defense. Containment on the edges of the defense was a serious problem last season," the team source said. "Right now, along with Williams and Hovan, Kenny Mixon appears to be another defensive lineman we will go with.
"There is a lot of work to do, but those are three players we can win with and continue to build around. Fred Robbins (defensive tackle) is another option, and he is a free agent and should get some serious consideration from other teams seeking an above average tackle."
Coupling the issues with the defensive line, the linebackers for the Vikings last season had their ups and downs. Rookies E.J. Henderson and Mike Nattiel contributed to the team and could play a vital role in the defensive resurgence expected under new defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell.
The Vikings lost a key member of the linebacker corps last season when Chris Claiborne went down with an assortment of injuries, one which resulted in recent surgery on his heel.
"When we lost Claiborne, the impact was huge. Defensively, we lost a player who was playing extremely well, probably better than he has since coming into the league," the team source added. "Our rush defense suffered, containment responsibilities were missed, which became a two-fold problem for us. He (Claiborne) is a key piece of the defensive puzzle.
"Also, we have to make some decisions on veteran players such as Greg Biekert and Henri Crockett. (E.J.) Henderson will push for the starting middle linebacker spot this year, and we want to get his athleticism and talent on the field. Mike Nattiel is another guy that came on well late last season, and we want to see if he is ready. He has very good speed and quickness. Let's not forget, Nick Rogers is also pushing for a look, and we would like to add some additional young talent and possibly a proven playmaker to this group."
The offseason appears to be one of heavy activity for the Minnesota Vikings, but time will tell if the team can follow the correct path toward the road to improvement.
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