No position has been a bigger talker among Vikings fans this offseason than defensive end. With the blockbuster trade last month to bring in Jared Allen, the Vikings have turned one of their biggest areas of need into an area of strength.
There had been a lot of questions swirling around the position due to Kenechi Udeze being diagnosed with leukemia and Erasmus James being a question mark for 2008 following three knee surgeries in just over a year, and the likelihood that both will miss the entire season. Udeze is done for the season for sure and various players and coaches have differing opinions on when James will be able to contribute in 2008.
Allen gives the Vikings an immediate upgrade in the pass rush – his 15.5 sacks last year were as many as the top three Vikings sack leaders combined. His addition to the team will have a pronounced effect on the entire defense. Last year if the Vikings wanted to apply pressure to the quarterback, they had to blitz linebackers, safeties and corners. It is believed with Allen's pass-rush ability, he will be able to accomplish that on his own and allow the players on the back end of the defense to stay in their own positions more often or come uncovered when they do decide to blitz.
It is understandable why players like Pat and Kevin Williams were ecstatic to see Allen arrive to the Vikings. Last season both of them were being constantly double-teamed because opponents knew they didn't have to double up on the Vikings' ends. With Allen, who almost demands double coverage, Pat Williams said that teams will have to "pick their poison" and decide which of the Vikings' front wall gets single-covered. If it turns out to be Allen, the sack numbers he has built in his first four seasons will just continue to rise.
While Allen is a huge and immediate upgrade, it doesn't change the fact that there are still some major concerns along the defensive front. Allen will be installed at right defensive end, shifting Ray Edwards over to the left side. Behind them, with Udeze already ruled out for 2008 and James remaining a question, depth is still a concern. With Darrion Scott not being re-signed, the Vikings' top line of backups at defensive end will be Brian Robison and Jayme Mitchell.
Robison made a name for himself last year as the team's designated third-down pass rusher. While a bit undersized by NFL defensive end standards, he speed and upper-body strength have allowed him to be a difference-maker on the pass rush. He likely will be asked to spell Edwards during games. Mitchell provides depth and made significant strides during the 2007 season, along with late-season signee Otis Grigsby and defensive line swingmen Ellis Wyms and Kenderick Allen.
The Vikings still have plenty of concerns at the defensive end spot, but the addition of Jared Allen has been the talk of the town for the last month, and there are many who believe that he could be the missing piece of the puzzle that transforms the Vikings from a team that knocks on the door for making the playoffs to a team that has become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. While that may seem like a lot of pressure to put on one player, his ability to create havoc in the backfield, as well as allowing linebackers and safeties to maintain their assignments without having to abandon them in order to get pressure on the QB, makes such lofty praise legitimate and gives the Vikings a quality pass rusher they haven't had in years.
Positional Analysis: Defensive End
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