Depth on Vikings’ defensive line may lead to rotation

MANKATO, Minn. — Jared Allen has heard for the past several years that the Minnesota Vikings hope to limit his snaps during the regular season to make him more effective over the course of a long season and late in games. Kevin Williams, entering perhaps his final season with Minnesota, is hearing some of it this season.

The two proud veterans have combined for 11 Pro Bowls and nine first-team All-Pro honors. They didn’t reach their lofty status by standing on the sidelines. So, as the Vikings again talk of using a defensive line rotation, Allen and Williams have naturally said they’d rather be on the field.

“I’m a firm believer: You put the best ones out there,” Allen said Tuesday at training camp. “If you’re good enough to be the starter, you’re the starter. And I’ve always been a firm believer in that. You have to have depth because of injuries. You have to have depth because guys do get tired. You can’t expect a 315-pound guy to play 80 snaps a game. I understand that. My philosophy is when you start rotating left tackles, you can start rotating me. It’s always been that way.”

One big reason for Minnesota’s preference to rotate players along the defensive line this season is the team’s depth. Everson Griffen proved last year to be an effective pass rusher inside or outside and the team is trying to find ways to get him on the field as a backup to Allen and Brian Robison. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans split snaps at nose tackle and the Vikings also used their first pick in April’s draft to select Sharrif Floyd.

But with Allen, Williams, Robison, Griffen and Evans all entering the final season of their current contracts with Minnesota, the Vikings need to know how the position stacks up in the future. Those five will also be playing for their next contract. Splitting snaps isn’t the way to go into free agency.

“Without question, that will not end,” Frazier said of players lobbying to keep themselves in games. “That will be ongoing and that’s a good thing. You want guys that want to be on the field. You don’t want them over there saying, ‘OK, I’m fine, you go ahead this time.’ We want guys to be competitive, that want to go ahead and make plays for us. So that’s a good problem to have, especially when you have guys as good as ours are. So it’s a good problem.”

Frazier said earlier in camp he’d like to possibly decrease the snaps for the 32-year-old Williams to about 30 to 35 per game instead of the 50 or 60 snaps the five-time All-Pro has played in the past. Williams said it would be “weird” to see his snaps limited.

“The guys know that they are going to rotate,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said earlier. “They know that at some point they are going to come out of the ball game. That is going to be the best thing for the team. Not necessarily the best thing for their number of reps, but we want to make sure that we keep them fresh, that we keep them going for two reasons, or really three reasons.

“One is that at the end of the ball game, when we need to shut it out that guys are fresh, they can get themselves going. Number two would be at the end of the year when we need to make that playoff push that guys are healthy and they don’t have too many reps on their bodies so they are still fresh. The third is that if someone would happen to get injured the other guy has enough reps under his belt the he can come in there and play and play winning football so having that rotation helps the entire team out and they are good with it. Even though they might tell you, ‘Hey I want to play every down.’ They know what is best for us as a whole.

Allen said he’s seemingly heard the possibility of seeing his snaps limited for the past six seasons. Even last year, while playing through knee and shoulder injuries, Allen was on the field for nearly his usual allotment of snaps.

Allen has played on strong defensive lines most of his tenure with the Vikings but believes this season’s group has potential to be the best entering his sixth season with the team.

“When I first came here obviously we were pretty deep with who we had,” Allen said. “Now with B-Rob and Everson stepping into bigger roles, with Fred and Letroy and you’ve got Christian (Ballard) and now Sharrif is stepping in there, so yeah it’s definitely a deep group and that’s good. I think how good teams stay good and develop, I always look at the Steelers, they seemed to continue to be able to create new guys in their system. And the defensive line in Minnesota has always been kind of a staple. We’ve always had good defensive linemen, and it’s cool to see. So this has the potential to be one of the best D-lines that I’ve ever been on.”

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