When former Vikings defensive lineman Carl Eller was celebrating his recent election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was pulled aside for a remote TV interview. The NFL Network was calling, and Eller was happy to oblige.
On the other end of the interview was Chris Hovan. Hovan, the Vikings' defensive lineman, had his hair slicked back and was asking Eller about his playing days in the 1970s.
When Eller was done, we turned the table on him and asked him about his opinions on the Vikings' current cast of defensive linemen — especially Hovan and Kevin Williams — and Eller's strategic ideas go against the thinking of many at Winter Park.
"Chris the key guy," Eller said of Hovan, who is entering the final year of his contract. "He's kind of the main man over there. He's collecting a lot of people. I think that (Kevin) Williams is going to come on strong and really help him a lot. Chris will do his deal. He'll go and tear some stuff up. But you've got to get those other guys bringing it too."
Actually, it was Williams who was "brining it" better than Hovan in 2003, at least according to the statistics. Williams was the first Vikings defensive lineman to start every game in his rookie season, and he rewarded the Vikings with an outstanding season. He registered 10.5 sacks, leading the Vikings in that category, and was named the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for December.
Williams started the season at left defensive end in the first 10 games before being moved inside next to Hovan. Most football analysts thought Williams was a better player inside, but not Eller, who followed the Vikings closely in 2003 and knows the defensive end position from experience.
"He's been very effective inside, but long term I think he'd be better outside," Eller said of Williams. "That's my opinion. I think he's got the size, I think he's got the range. I think he can create a lot of havoc from the outside. He's got the quickness to play inside, but I'd really like to see him stay outside because I think he can really crunch that in and squeeze it for Hovan.
"The way they're playing, the two of them, they are kind of coming up and it kind of opens up the pocket a little bit. They need to have Williams stay on the outside and have the other guys on the outside, and I think they could bring a lot of punch up in there."
Eller's point is that if the Vikings would spread out their most talented defensive linemen, Williams and Hovan, then the offensive line wouldn't be able to concentrate so heavily on the interior of the Vikings defense. If Williams would move back to left end, that would mean the opposition would have to commit a tackle and either a tight end or running back to double-team him, while they would need another two players to double Hovan further down the line.
The Vikings could do that, or, what most fans would prefer …
"They need to bring in another guy," Eller said. "These guys that are playing, they're playing pretty good. They've got to really get the pressure and have some movement, really move these guys around. That's really hard. With Chris, there's a lot of traffic in there. It's hard to get through there and get that push, break through there. They've got to have some way to disperse that away from Chris."
If they have Williams and Hovan inside and added a right end, would that be the answer?
"That'd do it, but I think the best thing is add a right end and keep Kevin on the left end," Eller said. "Then you've got it squeezed and that's going to help Chris. … You don't want the quarterback to have an out. You want to keep him in there, and quarterbacks scramble a lot more today than they used to. They are a lot more agile and flexible, but you want to cut that down and minimize that."
Eller's Defensive Line Assessment
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