With the least yards yielded in the NFL against the run and the most against the pass, the Vikings appear set to tweak the positions of need in coordinator Leslie Frazier's defense.
Some of that is by choice, some by force.
Their need at the position of defensive end can fall into both of those categories.
By force: The team's most explosive defensive end off the snap is Erasmus James, but two knee injuries in consecutive years have derailed his efforts to live up to the first-round draft status he achieved in 2005, the same year that Troy Williamson was selected 11 slots ahead of the defensive end from Wisconsin. James continues to recover from his latest knee surgery, a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the 2007 season, and he will have to undergo another offseason of rehabilitation.
"It's been a bad turn after another for Erasmus. He really made a move last year during his first full camp," head coach Brad Childress said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "He was a holdout as a rookie and then got hurt immediately in the second game of the year and had a bad surgery. Came back and had to have a knee repaired again. So he's on track. This second surgery wasn't as tough. He's got a long row to hoe rehab-wise and getting back on the football field."
Also by forced was the sad news that Kenechi Udeze, who had experienced a bit of a renaissance season in 2007, had been diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer. Udeze almost certainly won't play in 2008 and his status beyond that is obviously precarious.
Defensive end Darrion Scott would fall into the "choice" category for the Vikings. He is choosing to test the free-agent market and the Vikings appear to be choosing to let him do that by not offering him a deal he can't refuse.
All of which leaves plenty of sources pointing to the Vikings being interested in Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Justin Smith. NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell, one of the most in-depth students of film, doesn't believe Smith will be a high-production guy from the standpoint of sacks.
"He's a high-motor, high-energy, relentless player whose got better-than-average physical talent. But he's not a great pass rusher," Cosell said, calling Smith a base end (the position that Udeze plays). "He's a tough, physical player. He's not an impact, game-changing defensive end."
Smith is probably the best-known of the defensive players the Vikings are expected to target, but Cosell also likes the potential in at least one of the safeties, the Bengals' Madieu Williams, they are interested in, according to a league source.
"I like him and it never quite worked out for him. I know he was injured a lot. I thought he would ultimately be a better player than he has turned out. Maybe the injuries prevented him from being that guy. I think he's got a chance somewhere else. I think he has a chance to be a good player because he can cover for a safety. He's got cornerback-type ability as a safety."
Williams played in 13 games last year, but he was eventually placed on injured reserve with a quadriceps injury.
Williams, out of Maryland, started 13 games in his rookie season and registered 103 tackles and three interceptions. He also covered slot receivers on occasion last season.
In his second season, Williams was placed on injured reserve in October with a shoulder injury and played only four games, starting three. He returned in 2006 and started all 16 games and had 88 tackles and three interceptions.
His rookie season was spent with current Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier when he was in the same role in Cincinnati, but they were different defenses.
Although Cosell doesn't view Williams as a particularly physical safety, he believes he is good enough to play in nearly any defensive system.
"I think he's good enough to fit in with any system if he's healthy and playing well because he has coverage ability," Cosell said. "He's showed he can play in the box. I think he can be a solid player; it just hasn't happened yet."
Another safety the Vikings are expected to target, according to a league source, is the New York Giants' Gibril Wilson, who is more physical than Williams but probably doesn't have the coverage ability, according to Cosell.
"To me, he's more of a box safety. I struggle a little bit with his range," Cosell said. "I like him as a player. I think he can be a tempo-setter because he is physical, but I think you have to be careful how you use him."
The Vikings' targets over the next several days will come into more public view, but Cosell's analysis should give Vikings fans a good idea of who these players are before they ever don the uniform of another team.
Analyst Breaks Down Defensive Targets
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