Heading into the offseason, the Vikings' problems at defensive end were, along with trying to find a shutdown cornerback, seen as the top priority to fixing a defense that collapsed often in the final two months of the season.
But, just a little more than four months later, if the Vikings do a comparison of their defensive ends against those in the NFC North, one could argue the Vikings are in the best shape of anyone.
The addition of rookies Keneche Udeze and Darrion Scott gave the unit a huge lift. Udeze, who slipped because of concerns some teams like the Jaguars and Bills had about his injured shoulder, was cleared by the Vikings' medical staff and they're convinced he can not only be 100 percent, but be a dominant pass-rushing force much in the way Jevon Kearse was when he came into the NFL in 1999. Scott gives the Vikings a capable backup for Kenny Mixon and a player who can be brought along slowly and groomed to become a starter. The team still has Nick Rogers and Lance Johnstone as designated pass rushers. While Rogers is a converted linebacker and Johnstone is nearing the end of his career, both can provide the team with pass rushers on clear passing downs – providing depth and the chance for a sack on critical third-down plays.
A glance around the rest of the division shows that isn't the case for the other teams in the NFC North – something that could turn out to be a big advantage if all things remain equal in 2004.
The Packers have invested heavily in the defensive end position to try to make it the focal point of the defense, but with little success. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has proved to be a very good pass rusher, but he is also seen as seen as something of a one-trick pony who doesn't seem to get his name called when the game is on the line. On the other side, Aaron Kampman is similar to Mixon in that he is decent against the run, but not overpowering rushing the quarterback. That problem was hoped to be fixed by former top draft pick Jamal Reynolds. But, in his three years, Reynolds has been nothing short of a complete bust and waste of money.
The Lions are in a transition that has many wondering if the team isn't going to take a serious dip in production. James Hall, the starting right end the last two years, has been pushed to the left side. Former All Pro Robert Porcher is now relegated to a backup role at age 34, because he can't hold up being an every-down end anymore. That has opened the door for Kalimba Edwards, who hasn't impressed the last two years due to injuries. Jared DeVries and Cody Redding were a pair of first-day draft picks in recent years, but neither has done anything to force them into the starting lineup.
Perhaps in the worst shape are the Bears. Alex Brown has played at a consistent level and should thrive under new coach Lovie Smith. But, because the team needed help elsewhere, former starter Phillip Daniels became a salary cap casualty. Depth is razor thin with Joe Tafoya, who is a run stopper only, and rookie Claude Harriott, who is an unproven commidity.
While the Vikings viewed defensive end as a major concern at the conclusion of the 2003 season, when put in the context of what the other teams in the division have (or don't have) going for them, the Vikes are in better position to do more with their defensive end rotation than any team in the NFC North – something that couldn't have been imagined just nine months ago.
Who Has Best DEs In NFC North?
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