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Young Front Highlights Shift in Defensive Philosophy For Vikings

 
Young Front Highlights Shift in Defensive Philosophy For Vikings
Posted March 12th, 2014 @ 9:47am


Photo - Jamie Squire (Getty Images)

By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
@AjKFAN

Minneapolis, MN - With day one of free agency in the bag, the Vikings have already taken a very public stance to move in a new direction. Given the fact that their defense allowed 480 points to the opposition last year, that's probably not the worst idea they've ever had.

For the better part of the past decade, Minnesota's defensive line was fronted by two stalwarts. Kevin Williams (who was drafted by the Vikings in 2003) and Jared Allen (traded to the Vikings in 2008) have been the face of a successful defensive front that led the Vikings to three playoff runs (2008, 2009 and 2012). But with a new coaching staff comes a new philosophy, and on day-one of NFL free agency, Coach Zimmer and the Vikings accentuated their new direction with just a handful of moves.

Within one two hour span, the Vikings effectively said goodbye to both Jared Allen and Kevin Williams through the long-term signing of defensive end Everson Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph. Couple that with the release of Letroy Guion earlier in the week and the Vikings defensive line went from an average age of 30 years old to that of 25.5 years old overnight.

After the moves, the current defensive line for your Minnesota Vikings looks like this...

Left DE Brian Robison (30 years old), NT Linval Joseph (25), DT Sharrif Floyd (21) and right DE Everson Griffen (26).

With the influx of youth, you obviously lose some experience. Looking at the names you lost, you are also losing some productivity. The statistics strictly from 2013 show that your defensive front drops from 25 sacks with Allen/Williams/Guion/Robison, but it's not by as much as you may think. The combination of Robison/Joseph/Floyd/Griffen accounted for 20 sacks last season. That's a difference of only 5 sacks. And when you factor in that the "young four" appeared in 467 fewer snaps than their elder statesmen, that makes the situation a bit more tolerable.

If you've been paying attention, this influx of youth shouldn't be surprising given what we've already learned about Coach Zimmer and his defensive scheme. Through last week's film session with the coach and all the conversations we've had with him up to this point, it's been made very clear that coach is interested in getting young, impressionable talent in a system that focuses to stop the run first and sack the quarterback second.

Looking back to his defenses in Cincinnati, there were only two players during Zimmer's 8-year stint that eclipsed double-digit sack marks. But there was an obvious increase in passes deflected and tackles by the defensive linemen.

While it's clear that the organization has high hopes for Griffen given the dough they just forked over to keep him in town, the focal point of this defensive line may very well come from the interior linemen.

In the past, armed with Jared Allen at defensive end, the Vikings have utilized the 9-technique rusher sending the ends out wide to create more space to work. That changes with Zimmer. In Cincinnati, those ends were aligned as more of a 6-technique rusher and relied on the interior linemen to eat up blockers to open the space and create the one-on-one match ups with the tackles.

Sharrif Floyd was buried below Kevin Williams on the depth chart last year and only saw limited action (462 snaps). Coach Zimmer already likes what he sees from Floyd on tape. That philosophy stems from his belief that the team doesn't always need bigger bodies to clog the middle, they need better footwork ,and that's exactly what Sharrif has.

A guy who is blessed with both the big body and the good footwork joined the squad yesterday. In four seasons with the Giants, Joseph started 46 games on a solid defensive front. Getting the first foot down on the ground with a short step was key for Linval as it gives him the balance and power to engage and dictate the offensive linemen rather than vice versa.

Much like Geno Atkins and Domata Peko did for Zimmer in Cincinnati, Floyd and Joseph will be expected to come up big if this new defensive philosophy is expected to get off the ground running here in Minnesota.

Day one of free agency was only the beginning for Coach Zimmer and his plans for the Vikings defense. It took a couple years for the Bengals to get the pieces in place before the system started bearing fruits, but the cupboards on defense in Minnesota are not quite as bare as they were in Cincy 8 years ago. Building blocks like Sharrif Floyd, Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes are already in place for the Vikings. Add a Linval Joseph, a few young LBs and CBs through the draft and things should appear promising before the Zimmer lead Vikings even take the field for the first time in 2014.

Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings updates and breaking Vikings news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN

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