Lurtsema's Reaction: On The Line

The defensive line of the Vikings has made such big strides that they have helped bring back memories of the great defenses the Vikings had in 1970s. Who is impressing me in training camp so far this year and who do I look for to add depth?

After having gone to Canton, Ohio this past weekend to attend the induction of Minnesota Viking great Carl Eller to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I came back laughing so hard. The good times with other Vikings alumni continue to roll, but I also realized that this 2004 team seems to have a lot of parallels to our great teams of the 1970s.

Before I left for Canton, I watched the current Vikings scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs, and I was once again totally impressed with how good our No. 1 draft choice of 2003, Kevin Williams, is. During the week leading up to the Kansas City scrimmage, it seemed at times that Williams was putting on a pass-rushing clinic in training camp. He has such great body control to go with his tremendous size and hand strength. I've said it before, but he is definitely a natural tackle and, as of right now, I've already seen him raise this defensive front to another level.

With players like Williams, Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott as the new blood on the defensive line, there is an impressive veteran that has been added as well. Like Williams, Steve Martin, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound eight-year veteran, was a rather obvious standout to me during pass-rushing drills and against the Kansas City Chiefs scrimmage.

With each and every day of practice at training camp, the Vikings have a fun competition between the offense and defense, with the winner taking two of three battles. During the competitions, as the defense was dominating — and they should this early in the season — I went and talked to the offensive linemen, who obviously weren't having the day the defensive linemen were. The neatest part of the conversation with them was that they all stated, ‘This will make us better players.' They love the competition, they love the intensity created by the coaching staff, and they all have the same goal for the end of this season.

While none of the players I just mentioned would be considered on the roster bubble, there are a couple of surprise players making an impression on me during camp. My picks this year are tight end Ben Steele and linebacker Keith Newman. Steele has been a standout, especially on the receiving end, while progressing his block skills as a young player in the league. And, after watching No. 52, Newman, they will have to find a spot for him on the roster.

This defense is so much improved — I'd like to repeat that to all the readers out there, "so much improved" — that putting them together with the No. 1 offense in the National Football League can do nothing but make it a slam dunk for the 2004 Vikings to win the NFC North. I said that this spring, and I love saying it now because I have so much evidence to back up that statement.

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