Vikings: Defensive Roster Projections

The Vikings have to trim their roster to 53 players by no later that 4 p.m. Central Saturday. They might make their required massive purge as early as Friday, so we use Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, two systems the Vikings are emulating on offense and defense respectively, as our guides in projecting what the Vikings' defensive roster will look like on Saturday evening.

While there may be more than one way to skin a cat (we're not exactly sure why you'd want to in the first place), there are seemingly limitless ways to shape an NFL roster.

The league mandates that all teams must trim their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. Central on Saturday, but many teams will beat the deadline by 24 hours or more. That means the Vikings could release 22 or more players as early as Friday morning after their last hurrah in purple Thursday night against Dallas.

Today, we focus on the defense and the players we feel have the best chance of survival on the active roster.

DEFENSE

In order to assess the Vikings defense and the number of players they might keep at each position, we turn to Tampa Bay, former home to Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin for insight on how many defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs are needed to run the Tampa-2 defense Tomlin carried north with him to Minnesota.

At the start of the 2005 season, the Buccaneers had eight defensive linemen, five linebackers and nine defensive backs on their 53-man roster. By the end of the season, entering Week 17, they had added one player each at linebacker and defensive back, bringing the total number of defensive players to 24. Considering Brad Childress' offense in Philadelphia ended the season with 26 players and the Vikings are almost surely going to keep three specialists – kicker Ryan Longwell, punter Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler – we'll operate under the assumption that the Vikings defense will carry 24 players.

DEFENSIVE LINE (Tampa Bay 8)

1. Kenechi Udeze – The starting left defensive end is a lock to make the team as a former first-round draft pick, even if he did miss most of last year with a knee injury.

2. Pat Williams – Despite a bout on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list early in training camp, Williams has come on strong in the later stages of the preseason and is a lock to make the roster and start.

3. Kevin Williams – The under tackle in the Vikings defense hasn't been particularly noticeable so far in the preseason, but he should show up with penetration into the backfield once the regular season starts.

4. Erasmus James – The starting right defensive end is poised to have a breakout year in his second season in the league and with a defense that is playing to his strengths.

5. Ray Edwards – He's not a starter yet, but through injury or a continued progression in his game during his rookie year, Edwards looks to be a tough person to keep off the field. He also should be impossible to cut anytime in the near future.

6. Ross Kolodziej – The Vikings need a veteran interior lineman to back up Kevin and Pat Williams, and Kolodziej looked strong starting for Pat Williams early in the preseason. He should be a roster cinch.

7. Spencer Johnson – The former rookie free agent out of Auburn is the team's third-leading tackler in preseason, but more than stats, he made himself visible several times in last week's game against Baltimore. He could be on the roster bubble, but it appears he's on the right side of the employment line.

8. Darrion Scott – Despite Edwards looking strong at end, it would be wise for the Vikings to be sure they have a fourth player who can play outside if needed, and Scott offers position flexibility inside or outside. Scott is likely in a numbers battle with the other Scott – DeQuincy Scott – but it appears Darrion has shown more to this point in the preseason.




9. DeQuincy Scott – He was a versatile and productive backup in San Diego, but so far DeQuincy Scott has only two preseason tackles and hasn't been very visible. With a defensive philosophy that counts on a disruptive defensive line, not being visible is a problem. He could make the roster if he beats out Johnson or Darrion Scott, or if the Vikings opt to keep nine defensive linemen. Some also consider DeQuincy a Fran Foley acquisition, which might not bode well for him since Foley was fired and Childress remains.

10. C.J. Mosley – Mosley did an admirable job filling in at defensive tackle last year as a rookie, but the numbers game would appear to have caught up with him after the addition of Kolodziej.

11. Eric Taylor – A practice squad player nine out of 10 weeks last season, that would seem to be his only hope to be at Winter Park next week.

12. Jayme Mitchell – The biggest of the defensive ends provides an intriguing physical specimen that might have a shot at the practice squad. However, he was involved in a few training camp scraps, which could be interpreted as a feisty, energized player or as a lack of discipline. He's a potential practice squad guy.

13. Khreem Smith – The former Arena League player will need some time to adjust back to the 11-man game, but that adjustment period would have to come on the practice squad, if at all with the Vikings.

LINEBACKERS (Tampa Bay 6)

1. Ben Leber – The free-agent acquisition from San Diego has been nothing but steady on the strong side. He's a starter as long as his foot problems from last year don't resurface, which they haven't to this point.

2. E.J. Henderson – The weakside role in the Tampa-2 defense really seems to fit Henderson's style of play. He's been all around the ball throughout training camp and the preseason.

3. Napoleon Harris – A new coaching staff has seemed to give Harris a new lease on a starting position. Lease is the key word, however, as he will have to prove himself throughout the season, but he's in no danger of losing his roster spot anytime soon.

4. Heath Farwell – Things start to get dicey for the Vikings after their top three since first-round draft pick Chad Greenway was lost for the season with a knee injury, but Farwell has stepped into the No. 2 weakside spot and leads the team in tackles, 22 for the preseason through three games. Second place in that race isn't even close – Greg Blue has 11.

5. Dontarrious Thomas – Thomas hasn't stood out impressively, which is what he would have needed to do to win a starting job in the middle, but has been decent, garnering eight tackles, two passes defensed and an interception in three preseason stints.

6. Jason Glenn – Since the confidence in this pick drops off, not having much time in purple to judge Glenn, it's possible the Vikings keep just five linebackers and look for insurance on the waiver wire. In drills, the sixth-year linebacker seems to look the part of a fairly reliable backup, but as a mid-preseason pickup it's just hard to analyze on limited time.




7. Rod Davis – If the Vikings do keep six linebackers, Rod Davis is likely in a heated battle with Glenn. Davis looked very good early in training camp and does have eight preseason tackles. He also is a solid special teams player, which will weigh nicely in his favor. However, if experience is what the new coaching staff is looking for, Glenn gets the nod there, even if it isn't experience with the Vikings.

8. Kyle McKenzie – He's got the speed to be a good Tampa-2 linebacker, but he could use some seasoning on the practice squad before he sees time during a regular-season game.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (Tampa Bay 10)

1. Antoine Winfield – Old reliable might never make the Pro Bowl, but if voting would be determined on all-around plays instead of largely on interceptions and reputation, Winfield would go from potential Pro Bowler to former Pro Bowler.

2. Darren Sharper – He's just the sort of playmaker who can continue to thrive in the Vikings defense. He could have another Pro Bowl year with a frenzy up front, creating opportunities for him in the back end.

3. Fred Smoot – It remains to be seen how he holds up physically, but if he can get his confidence back and make the right adjustments, he could have a year worthy of his contract.

4. Dwight Smith – The only way a healthy Smith doesn't make the roster is if the Vikings really want to make a stand with their code of conduct after his citation for indecent exposure, but after Tank Williams' season-ending knee injury, the Vikings probably can't afford to make that move from a talent-deficiency standpoint. Smith makes it and has a solid year while trying to show up New Orleans, which released him in July.

5. Cedric Griffin – Whether or not he earns the nickel role at the beginning of the season or not, he's on the roster as a solid second-round pick. If he isn't the nickel corner to start the season, he's likely there by the end of the season, if not starting in the case of an injury to Smoot or Winfield.

6. Dovonte Edwards – An undrafted rookie last season, Edwards had a solid year while progressing into the nickel back role. He will make the roster this year and earn playing time in one form or another.

7. Greg Blue – The safety has shown flashes of his hard-hitting style, but he needs to improve his coverage and recognition skills. Despite that, the Vikings won't risk waiving him and trying to re-sign him to the practice squad. He'll earn and learn on the 53-man roster this year.

8. Ronyell Whitaker – He is still in the battle to become the nickel back and his familiarity with the defense bodes well. He's not a sure-fire lock to make the squad, but his position is looking pretty secure, especially if the Vikings keep 10 defensive backs. The only way we can see that not happening is if Charles Gordon plays Thursday, lights it up and the Vikings decide to keep him for his special teams potential.

9. Will Hunter – He might be in a fight with Willie Offord for the final safety spot, but it's possible the Vikings keep five safeties. Hunter is a bit more athletic than Offord, and this coaching staff has no allegiance to Offord's status as a former third-round draft pick. This battle between Hunter and Offord is probably the tightest of the roster competitions on defense.

10. Willie Offord – Offord has three inches and 26 pounds over Will Hunter, and Offord is probably the better special teams player. But the biggest strike against Offord has been his inability to stay healthy and show his new coaches what he can do on the field. If the Vikings keep 10 defensive backs, he and Hunter could both make it. If that number is nine, one of the two likely will be the odd man out.




11. Charles Gordon – If he weren't injured for most of the preseason, Gordon might have had a chance to be a roster shoo-in. As it stands, his roster position is likely predicated on his play in Thursday's game. He looked solid early in camp and the Vikings could take a chance on him and keep him on the 53-man roster if he looks up to snuff on the health meter. He might also be waived and brought back on the practice squad if he clears wavers. A third option would be to start him on the physically unable to perform list, making him ineligible for the first six weeks of the season. Whichever route the Vikings go, Gordon should be wearing an NFL uniform at some point this season.

12. Tony Beckham – Beckham hasn't stood out in training camp or preseason. While he hasn't been routinely burned, he also hasn't had long enough to fully show his assets to the coaching staff. He's likely gone.

13. Dustin Fox – Surprisingly, the 2005 third-round draft pick looks like he won't make the roster. He never got a chance to learn the safety position last year, breaking his arm in training camp and spending the entire season on injured reserve. He met a position switch back to cornerback, his college position, this year with enthusiasm, but he just hasn't looked completely comfortable in this defense. His potential should land him somewhere on a roster or practice squad.

Rosters are always a numbers game, with coaches borrowing a spot from one unit to add a player to another, but with Philadelphia (on offense) and Tampa Bay (on defense) as our guides, those are Viking Update's projections for Saturday night's roster.


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