The off-season for the Minnesota Vikings has been based on three topics. Improve the defense, secure a legitimate threat at wide receiver, and add depth to a young roster. Minnesota has addressed each issue, but the Vikings are far from resting on the success the team achieved during the first phase of the free agent signing period.
Issues along the defensive line, linebacker, and at cornerback significantly contributed to the Minnesota meltdown of 2003, a meltdown that head coach Mike Tice does not intend on living through again.
While the Vikings have not secured a significant acquisition for the defensive line during free agency, tackle Steve Martin has been added and will fill the void left by the departure of Fred Robbins to the New York Giants. The Vikings flirted with the notion of entering the sweepstakes for defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Grant Wistrom, but in the final analysis obtaining a shutdown cornerback outweighed the prize catch of one of those pass-rushing threats.
"When weighing the options, we really liked the ability some of the defensive linemen available in free agency possessed," a team source said. "We felt that the shutdown cornerback would help us immediately, as we believe our entire defensive backfield wasn't an issue. We did not have the type of player that we could match up against the opponent's best wide receiver and contain him.
Pressure can be generated by the scheme of the defense — knowing we have the type of talent we do in the secondary, we can take chances we normally may not have taken."
By adding the services of cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings are a better team today, whether another roster-enhancing move is made or not. Filling a void that has hampered this organization for years, Winfield has the experience and ability to lock up and shut down the best the opposition has to offer.
Teaming with a safety tandem of Corey Chavous and Brian Russell, with Winfield covering one corner and upcoming talent Brian Williams manning the other cornerback position, the Vikings could easily have one of the top-five defensive backfields in the league. But, winning in the NFL is not based on talent alone. The offensive schemes in the game today are well-prepared and continue to find the means to beat the best defensive teams, units much stronger than that of the Vikings.
Defensive consistency and a pass-rushing presence are the only two issues that separate the Vikings from being one of the better defensive teams in the entire national Football League.
"Having the opportunity to add a player of the caliber of Antoine Winfield was a major acquisition for this team. We went in free agency targeting the cornerback position as an area we needed to improve at," the team source continued. "Now, we believe we have the talent in the defensive backfield to line up with anyone in this game. These players in our scheme will provide us the opportunity to be a very good defensive football team."
As was viewed during the 2003 season, if a quarterback is provided with the time to read the entire field twice over, the defense will generally be beaten. That was the case with the Vikings last season, but the addition of Winfield should improve the porous play at the cornerback position.
Obtaining a legitimate defensive end to generate a pass rush to take some pressure off the defensive backs has been at the forefront of the Minnesota draft game plan. The obstacle the Vikings are facing is their draft position. Holding the 19th selection in the first round, the Vikings could be left on the outside looking in on draft day.
"A considerable amount of time has been spent on evaluating players, seeing if they fit into our scheme, and if there is a player available we may want to do what we need to do to secure," the source added. "Basically, there are a few defensive linemen which intrigue us, the linebackers are interesting and talented, and there is some depth in the defensive backfield."
And sitting with the 19th pick, would the Vikings be in the mode to trade up to secure the services of a specific player?
"Never say never," the team source said. "With the way this draft plays out, anticipate some wheeling and dealing. I can tell you we are looking to improve defensively, but that is somewhat of a given. Simply, we like a couple linebackers and ends — there is a player in there we would move for if the price was right."
Vikings Still Hold Hope For More Pressure
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