Once upon a time, the Vikings were quite confident in their defensive line. At a time months and months ago, the coaches and players were anticipating another Pro Bowl season from defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. The latter would be able to take care of business if the former was double-teamed, and even if the former was double-teamed, he would continue his ascent to being the best defensive tackle in the league.
And if both Williamses were given extra attention, then surely the Vikings' rising defensive ends would emerge from the "full-of-potential" category to the production department.
Injuries to veteran pass rusher Lance Johnstone and 2004 first-round draft pick Kenechi Udeze have necessitated changes.
"Depth-wise, we were really short anyways (against Atlanta)," starting end Darrion Scott said. "Last week we were short of Lance and Kenechi. We only had five or six guys and two of those guys were rookies. C.J. (Mosley) saw his first action, real NFL play last week."
Mosley, a sturdy but inexperienced rookie out of the University of Missouri, needed to contribute because the Vikings are busy transferring utility defensive linemen to starting status and mainly interior pass rushers to exterior every-down players.
One of those is Spencer Johnson, who has also been called on to play every position along the defensive line in his 20 regular-season games with the Vikings.
"Whatever it is, I'll be ready for it," Johnson said of his role in Chicago this Sunday. "If it's a more extensive role, then I'll be ready for that."
It will be a starting role at left defensive end if a sprained medial collateral ligament is healed sufficiently enough for him to play. Last year, Johnson came out of the shadows of the undrafted rookies to eventually win a starting spot over for first-rounder Chris Hovan and finished with 54 tackles, tops among Vikings rookies.
This year, the injury to Udeze at left end is giving Johnson another opportunity be an NFL starter.
"That's the nature of this league. Unfortunately, people get hurt and I'm fortunate to be the next man called on two years in a row," Johnson said.
Johnson played well as a starter last year, but that was at defensive tackle. Now his young career takes another turn outside.
"It's definitely been a transition, but I've been practicing at that and I've been learning good tips from guys like Lance Johnstone and Kenechi," Johnson said. "It's something I'll have to grow into because I'm not as comfortable there, but I'm going to get the job done when I'm called upon.
"It's a little more reading on the end. You've got to worry about the bootleg and different types of blocks. You've got to know the coverages, whether you stay outside. It's a little more thinking, but at the same time it's all playing defensive line – reaction and getting it done."
If Johnson can't play because of his knee injury, Scott, another second-year player, would also be making a transition to accommodate the team.
So far, Scott has been a starting right end and moves inside on obvious passing downs when the Vikings go with a quicker rotation on the defensive line. In Udeze and Johnson's absence, Scott would move from the right end to the left side, with Erasmus James or Johnstone taking a starting role on the left side.
"I'm comfortable on both sides," Scott said. "I've pretty much played both sides since college, right or left isn't going to hurt me any. Right now, I'm probably a little more comfortable with the right because that's where I've been throughout training camp and the minicamps, preseason and the first couple of games. … To move over to the left side is not going to take away any from my play I don't believe.
"Mostly, teams are running to the left side, so I wouldn't mind moving to the action. It's not going to bother me to move to the left side if that's what they want."
Scott was the player who received the request to take care of Udeze's dog while Udeze was having season-ending surgery in Colorado last week, but despite a close relationship, Scott advanced the common post-injury theme – the Vikings have to move on and execute with other players.
Johnson and Scott are willing to facilitate that this week.
Scott, Johnson Ready For Transition If Needed
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