The uncertainties run deep on the 2010 Vikings, but the one unit that hasn't been touched by injuries or positional battles is on the defensive line. As a unit, nobody can touch the talent the Vikings have – Pro Bowlers Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams and rising young star Ray Edwards – in the starting lineup and talented backups in Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Jimmy Kennedy, Fred Evans and rookie Everson Griffen. It is hard to make an argument against the starters being the best in the NFL and the unit as a whole being just as formidable.
Kevin Williams said that the Vikings defensive line has been a steadily consistent group over the last several years. For the last three seasons, the Vikings have finished either first or second in run defense and Kevin Williams said it has become their calling card. Teams may take a different approach as to how to deal with the Vikings' oppressive run defense, but the Vikings defensive line is unwavering in its commitment to stopping the run – a mindset that doesn't change from one opponent to the next.
"It depends on who you're playing, but our attitude never changes," Williams said. "We're going to stop the run first and that's going to allow us to rush the passer. If that's their style and they want to try to run the ball, good for them. We're going to meet the challenge. If not, we're going to rush the passer and try to get him on the ground early."
The ability to stop the run had a direct connection to the Vikings have more sacks than any team in the league in 2009. With the league's elite run-stopping defense and a league-leading number of sacks, what can they do to improve? According to Williams, plenty.
"What we're doing is identifying areas where we struggled last year and those are the things we've been working on the most in training camp," Williams said. "You don't have to change up what you're doing because you know the system and you're comfortable with it. Our job throughout camp has been to work on the areas we have had problems with before and try to correct those things. We're working on our blitzes and we know we're going to run the Cover-2, so we're trying to keep that polished up real good. The Cover-2 is our base and we should know that like the back of our hand."
Given the talent along the D-line, making plays hasn't been the issue. It has been the little things, the minor mistakes that allow a play to pop for extra yardage. As dominating as the Vikings defensive front has been in recent years, Kevin thinks it can get better and even more oppressive.
The D-line and its ability to consistently bottle up the run is one of the reasons the Vikings have been installed as a preseason favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Having the continuity of the starting front four intact for a third straight season is a significant asset, but Williams said the Vikings can't rest on past glory and expect to enjoy the same amount of success this year. Teams are aware that stopping the run is a strength of the defense and are game-planning to find ways to expose weaknesses in the Williams Wall, even though the new wave of Purple People Eaters have a lot of familiarity with what each other will do on a given play.
"It's a huge advantage having the experience working as a group together, but you can't get caught up in the (mindset) that everybody is back and it's going to be easy," Williams said. "You still have to play the games and you still have to do your homework, because these other teams are scheming trying to beat you. Nothing is easy. We have to stick to the grindstone and go out and perform and do the things we're coached to do."
Being part of one of the league's top defensive units is something the Vikings take pride in and aren't about to let slip away. When asked where the confidence level of the Vikings is heading into the 2010 season, Williams said "so far, so good," adding that the confidence will grow as the success comes along with it and that it can't start to grow if the expectation is that they will simply dominate by taking the field.
"I can't say how they feel on offense – they look pretty confident – but I know on defense we're really confident in the things we're doing," Williams said. "It's the same stuff. It's the same group of guys. We just know we have to perform. We can't show up and expect good things are going to happen. We have to execute that way things were designed to be executed and let things fall where they may."
The accolades and praise that has been heaped on the Vikings run defense in recent years is likely to continue this season. But Williams said that the players themselves are pushing each other not just to maintain their level of success, but to add to it and make a great unit better. It's a tall order, but when your preseason goal is essentially Super Bowl or bust, it's a challenge the linemen are taking head-on, ignoring success of the past in hopes of even greater achievements this season.
"We're not taking anything for granted," Williams said. "We have high expectations for this year. We should have high expectations. But nobody is going to hand us anything. We have to earn it and that's what we're prepared to do. We're ready to go out and prove it because what we have accomplished over the last couple of years doesn't mean anything to this season. We're starting over and have to prove ourselves again."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.