The defense is coming together. While coordinator Ted Cottrell is implementing his defense more fully over the coming three weeks of developmental camp, the young players who are expected to move into the starting lineup are already beginning that transition.
In the base defense, second-round draft choice Dontarrious Thomas is seeing some reps with the starters at weakside linebacker, along with second-year linebacker Mike Nattiel. With middle linebacker E.J. Henderson absent at the start of developmental camp, the starting linebackers have been Chris Claiborne, Max Yates and Nattiel/Thomas. Yates is in the starting lineup at practice this week because Henderson is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and has been visiting with his brother, who recently graduated from the University of Maryland. By the time Henderson returns to full speed (expected to be by the end of the month) and rookie fifth-round draft pick Rod Davis gets accustomed to the pro game, Yates may have to fight to earn a roster spot.
Last year's sixth-round draft choice, Nattiel, and Claiborne are the nickel linebackers working with the first unit in practices.
Lance Johnstone is still working with the base defense's first unit at right end, but first-round draft choice Kenechi Udeze is expected to assume that role by the preseason. Once Udeze makes that move into the starting lineup, Johnstone and Nick Rogers will be the backup rush ends in the base defense, and they are currently occupying the right and left end positions with the first-unit nickel defense. As expected, Ken Irvin is the nickel cornerback to complement base starters Antoine Winfield and Brian Williams, with Corey Chavous and Brian Russell the starting safeties.
The second nickel defense currently lines up as follows: LE Kenny Mixon, DT Chuck Wiley, DT Steve Martin, RE Udeze; LBs Thomas and Yates; CBs Eric Kelly, Rushen Jones and Williams; safeties Tyrone Carter and Willie Offord.
* After working out with the team on Tuesday, linebacker Merrill Robertson did sign with the Vikings. He will likely be used in the middle.
* Defensive tackle Billy Lyon is back to full-time work after undergoing knee surgery at the conclusion of the regular season.
* Head coach Mike Tice will present Aleksandr Ablamunets with an $8,000 check toward the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make Ablamunets' wish of attending college come true. The money comes from the team's "player fine fund."
* Tice and his coaching staff will team with the National Football Foundation for the third-annual Mike Tice/National Football Foundation Youth Coaching Academy from 5:30 to 9 p.m. today. Several rookies will help serve as demonstrators for the drills. More than 200 area youth coaches will participate in the clinic and learn from the pros.
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