Youth movement in full effect on Vikings defensive line

Now that Jared Allen (right) has signed with Chicago, Brian Robison becomes the veteran leader of the Vikings' defensive line.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Robison’s spot in the Minnesota Vikings’ locker room has been right next to Kevin Williams and Jared Allen the past few years.

Robison grew into an every-game starter playing alongside Williams and Allen, and has often talked about the tutelage provided by the two multiple All-Pros. When Robison looks to his left and right in the locker room now, he will have someone new on each side, just as it will be as he looks to his right while lining up on the defensive line.

"We played with the same guys pretty much throughout our career," Robison said, pointing out all the differences of the new-look line with Allen, Williams and Letroy Guion gone. "You’ve still got some guys there but I mean the core guys really, it’s going to be very different for us. At the same time, it’s exciting whenever you get new guys because you see the possibilities that can happen."

Robison is the only full-time starter from last season set to return.


Allen agreed to terms Wednesday with the Chicago Bears. Guion was released by Minnesota earlier this month (eventually signing with the Packers) and free agent Williams isn’t expected back. In their place, the Vikings went out and signed nose tackle Linval Joseph and re-signed defensive end Everson Griffen to become a regular starter. Fred Evans, another of the long-time group, remains after re-signing.

Second-year defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is expected to become a starter and Minnesota added tackle Tom Johnson and end Corey Wootton in free agency.

"I think it’s our time to show what we can do," Floyd said. "I’m not saying it’s going to be any better than what it was or its going to be great. But we’re going to do what we have to do and we’re going to play ball."

New coach Mike Zimmer has spoken about the necessity of defensive line play within his scheme and the Vikings’ moves have mirrored the importance for Zimmer.

"He’s building the way he likes it and the way he sees fit and now I’m just looking forward to meeting those guys and building a relationship so we can be the rock of the D," Floyd said of getting to meet his new teammates.

For years, the defensive line was the rock of Minnesota’s defense led by Williams, the five-time All-Pro, and Allen, the four-time All-Pro. Together, they combined for five All-Pros while playing on the Vikings’ line.

But as Allen, soon to be 32, and Williams, 33, were putting together possible Hall of Fame credentials, they were aging and the Vikings’ defensive line aged with them. Pat Williams was eventually let go and not replaced with a similar player until the team signed Joseph less than two hours into free agency two weeks ago.

Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman kept working until the changing of the guard on the defensive line was complete.

Robison, who joined Allen and Williams in the starting lineup in 2011, is suddenly the veteran and oldest player on the line. He turns 31 years old next month. He has seven years in the NFL, but only the past three as a full-time starter.

"You don’t feel old but you realize you are the old guy," Robison said. "It’s kind of a weird deal. I think it’s one of those things when you realize that you are that guy; that there’s going to be guys that look up to you and you have to take it upon yourself to be more of a vocal leader than I have in the past. That’s the one thing I’ve always felt like, I’ve tried to lead by example. I think now I’m really going to have to step up and be a little bit more of a vocal leader as well."

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Griffen is 26, Joseph is 25 and Floyd is 22. Together, the expected starting foursome is signed through the 2016 season.

"I’m looking forward to meeting (Joseph) and all the other D-line that’s coming in," Floyd said. "We’re going to build something."

As the veteran of the new guard, Robison is ready to assume the mentor role just like Allen and Williams did with him.

"Anytime you can get guys that have been good veterans for you to watch and to learn from and emulate like Jared, like Kevin, you see the way they interact with guys, the way they lead guys, you learn from that," Robison said. "There comes a point in everybody’s career where eventually you’ve got to kind of turn into that role. And I think right now that’s the point I’m at.

"That’s somewhere that Fred Evans is at. We’re the old guys, so we got to really take it upon ourselves to really be those leaders, be those guys that the guys look up to and guys feel like they can come to and talk about things and learn from."

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