Defensive fronts challenge young O-linemen

Coming into the season, one of the big questions was how the Vikings offensive line would respond with two first-year starters. The results have been mixed, as have the defensive fronts that continue to challenge John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. See what they had to say, along with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

In 27 games with the Oklahoma Sooners, Phil Loadholt saw the 3-4 defense once. In 21 games with Garden City (Kan.) Community College before that, he never experienced that defensive alignment.

After Sunday's third game with the Minnesota Vikings, Loadholt will be getting his second taste of that defense.

"It's definitely a different look than having the wide nine or that head-up guy with the outside backer, so it's just getting familiar with the different looks that the 3-4 brings you. It's definitely a different look and something you have to adjust to week in and week out," Loadholt said.

The Vikings faced the look a few times in the preseason, but without the starters going the whole game and not spending much time in true game-plan mode during the preseason, the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns offered the first true taste of it.

But that doesn't mean each 3-4 defense approaches things the same way, either.

"In the 3-4 look, guys play different. These guys like to throw a lot of different looks out at you," said running back Adrian Peterson. "Any 3-4 defense likes to confuse you. They get a lot of guys up standing up (and) rotating around. In Cleveland they did that a little bit, but not too much. Just watching these guys, you see them doing that a lot. … You've got to make sure you focus on that opponent in the different formations that they have."

Center John Sullivan is the man on the spot for making the proper calls along the offensive line. That's a big order for a first-year starter under any circumstance. Although the line survived against the Cleveland Browns, who had four sacks, Sullivan has become more accustomed to seeing the 4-3 defense that the Vikings run.

"Our team plays a 4-3 so that's what we're used to seeing in training camp. We know all our rules against what defense we face. We've seen it all, whether it's training camp, preseason or regular season. There's not a lot you can throw at us to get us confused," Sullivan said. "We just need to go out there and execute."

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell agreed that familiarity is the key.

"Each time we play it, we'll be more comfortable with it. I think five of our next six opponents play the 3-4. So we will get them all in a row and be able to see that technique," he said. "Now, some of the 3-4 schemes can be different. They can play their techniques a little bit different, but just being able to identify it, to see how they play it each and every week, I only think we'll get better at it."

That might be especially beneficial for a starting rookie tackle seeing those different defensive end alignments.

"It's basically getting used to that guy being head-up, kind of like a guard, instead of being wide on you or on your shoulder with shade technique or something like that," Loadholt said.

PROTECT BRETT

The Vikings have already given up seven sacks this season, which is magnified by the fact that team has only attempted 50 passes – 48 by Brett Favre and two by Tarvaris Jackson. That leaves the Vikings ranked 31st in the league in sacks per pass play.

"We pride ourselves on taking care of the quarterback, making sure that we keep him upright. A sack is not necessarily, as you are alluding to, saying that we are doing a good job at that," Bevell said. "We need to make sure that we are taking those extra hits off of him. It doesn't go back to any one thing. As you look back through all of the sacks, or even the times that he's getting hit, whether it is the receiver not shaking open in time, whether it is a protection issue, whether it is him just hanging a little bit longer trying to get one extra look down the field when there is somebody somewhere else he could go. So it is an all encompassing thing that we need to work on."

The worst team in the league at giving up sacks? The Green Bay Packers, who have given up 10 sacks in 67 pass attempts.

HARVIN TO THE HOUSE?

Whether or not Percy Harvin is able to play Sunday remains to be seen as he battles illness once again. But special teams coordinator Brian Murphy believes Harvin is close to breaking a kick return for a touchdown.

"The good thing he's doing is driving the ball into the return and there is very little hesitation on his part, which is giving us a chance," Murphy said.

The Vikings are second in the league with average starting position after a kickoff, beginning on the 30.6-yard line on average. Harvin is third in the league with a 29.7-yard average on kick returns.

"From a natural gift standpoint, he's strong and he's strong in his lower body," Murphy said. "A return is rarely 10 guys blocked and he's got that ability to break tackles. He's got the shiftiness to make guys miss or shake a guy to get him out of football position. Then he's got the speed to hit a homerun when he's got the opportunity."

NOTES

  • Childress said he didn't have an update on Harvin's health. Harvin has missed Thursday's and Friday's practices with an illness.

    "I think we can get him up to speed, just see how he's feeling," Childress said. "He's still ill, so that's the thing."

  • Adrian Peterson indicated this much on Thursday, but he told Fox Sports Radio that he will play on Sunday, despite being limited in practice this week with a "weak back."

    "I am going to play through it. It's really not that serious. I am going to play through it. I am ready to go," he said.

  • Peterson also told Fox Sports Radio that breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record is "more than realistic."

    "I definitely believe that with the group of guys that we have on the offensive side of the ball and defensive side of the ball, it's up there," he said. "It's definitely possible to crush it."

  • The Vikings worked out kicker Taylor Mehlhaff on Friday. Mehlhaff was released on the team's roster cutdown to 53 players.

    Childress said he gets a steady stream of e-mail from Mehlhaff's fans in South Dakota, "bordering on hate mail, that he needs to be part of the Vikings."

  • Harvin is tied for 46th in the NFL with eight receptions, two of those going for touchdowns. Chester Taylor also has eight receptions. Harvin is tied for 15th in the league with four receptions on third downs and is also tied for sixth in the league with two touchdowns.

  • Ryan Longwell is tied for fifth in the NFL in scoring among kickers with 19 points. However, Longwell is one of only six kickers without a touchback.

  • Former Vikings defensive lineman Jim Marshall attended practice on Friday and will be part of an event at Sunday's game to honor Brett Favre's consecutive starts streak. Favre broke Marshall's record of 270 last week when the quarterback started his 271st consecutive NFL game.

  • Darius Reynaud is third in the NFL with a 19-yard punt return average.

  • Chad Greenway is tied for third in the league with two interceptions. The league leader? Former Vikings safety Darren Sharper is tied for the lead with three.

  • DE Ray Edwards is tied for 18th in the league with 1.5 sacks.


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