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Updated: February 3rd, 2012 1:36pm
2011 Vikings Review: Only Jared Allen, line earn high marks on defense

2011 Vikings Review: Only Jared Allen, line earn high marks on defense

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Editor's note: This is the second installment in a three-part series grading the 2011 Minnesota Vikings. For a breakdown of the offense, click here.

Leslie Frazier's loyalty yielded an ill-fated decision to promote Fred Pagac, whose preference to run a Man/Cover-1 system as coordinator clashed with Frazier's Tampa-2 background and the team's increasingly depleted personnel.

A group of defensive backs pushed back after a series of mismatched busts in the Vikings' 0-4 start. Frazier eventually took away play-calling duties from Pagac for a stretch in November, but it was far too late to right the ship.

The Vikings finished 21st in total defense (358.2 yards per game) -- down from No. 8 in 2010 and their lowest ranking since they had the same ranking in 2005. They also dropped in rushing defense (11th, 107.0 yards per game), passing defense (26th, 251.2 yards per game) and scoring defense (31st, 28.1 points per game) while ranking in the bottom half of the league in take-aways (23) and on third down (38.4% converted).

Injuries were a factor, no doubt. However, so many red flags went up on the field and behind the scenes that Frazier had little choice but to demote Pagac and hire Alan Williams as coordinator to try to turn things around -- a process that figures to continue with significant personnel changes, particularly in the secondary.

The following are individual grades for the 32 defensive players who finished the season on the Vikings' 53-man roster, injured reserve or practice squad. Grades are based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts throughout the season. Tackles and defended passes are unofficial statistics compiled by the Vikings. Other unofficial statistics such as quarterback pressures, missed tackles and targeted passes are compiled by ProFootballFocus.com, an independent research firm that charts NFL games.

Players are graded on a scale that designates "A" for elite performance, "B" for above-average performance, "C" for average performance, "D" for below-average performance and "F" for failure to perform at an NFL level. Any player spending fewer than six weeks on the active roster and/or appearing in fewer than three games is given an "I" for incomplete.

Defensive linemen

Jared Allen (A-): A first-team All-Pro and candidate for defensive player of the year honors, Allen came within a half-sack of Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record despite playing on a team that seldom put opponents in a position where they had to pass. Played 1,000 of 1,058 gradable snaps on defense (94.5%). Recorded 22 sacks, eight additional QB hits and 66 total pressures. Thirteen of his 21 solo sacks came in 2.8 seconds or less. The rest were a product of his relentless motor. Had at least a half-sack in 13 of 16 starts despite persistent chips and double teams. Shut out by Oakland's Jared Veldheer, Atlanta's Will Svitek and New Orleans' Jermon Bushrod, seemingly running out of gas down the stretch. Managed 4½ more sacks over the last two games thanks in part to coaches' willingness to sell out and give him a chance at the record. Electrified the Metrodome in the finale against Chicago with 3½ sacks, all behind blitzes called to isolate him against LT J'Marcus Webb. Was disruptive in the run game as well, although playing the quarterback first opened the gate for several explosive runs, including a 24-yarder at Carolina and a 28-yarder against Oakland. Credited with 86 tackles (66 solo, 25 for loss). Intercepted Chargers QB Philip Rivers on a man drop in the opener. Defended two others. Forced four fumbles and recovered four. Dropped Broncos HB Willis McGahee for a safety. Took four penalties, including a roughing the passer call that propelled Tampa Bay's late TD drive. Drew a holding call that wiped a 59-yard run at Washington. Returned after getting poked in the eye against Arizona. Finished the Atlanta game as the long snapper and made a rare special-teams tackle. Blew up on the sideline in several games as things unraveled around him. It remains to be seen if Allen can repeat this performance at age 30, but he's one of the best right now.

Brian Robison (B-): Signed to a three-year, $14.1 million contract in March, Robison overcame apparent enervation at midseason to effectively bookend his first season as the starting left end. Played 895 snaps (82.7%), which probably contributed to some invisible performances around midseason. Still finished with eight sacks, five additional QB hits and 54 total pressures. Hit Rivers' arm to cause an interception in the opener -- the first in a series of turnovers he created with his pass rush. Had strip-sacks against Arizona, Washington and Chicago. Recovered the fumble at Washington and another against Oakland. Benched Lions RT Gosder Cherilus with a sack in 2.5 seconds in Week 3, when he racked up eight pressures. Five of his seven solo sacks came in 2.8 seconds or less. Took three penalties, including a crucial offsides penalty that wiped out a fumble on third-and-17 against Tampa Bay. Doubled back on LeGarrette Blount's go-ahead TD in that game. Fined $20,000 for kicking Packers G T.J. Lang in the groin after getting dumped on a field goal. Suffered an abdominal strain against Arizona but returned. Left against Denver because of a concussion but played the following week. Totaled 54 tackles, including 33 solo and 10 for loss. Missed two, including a potentially key stop on Bears HB Kahlil Bell in the finale. If coaches don't ride him into the ground, Robison looks like he'll justify that deal and then some.

Kevin Williams (B-): Diagnosed with plantar fasciitis before the season and also plagued by knee trouble, Williams lacked his usual explosion off the line but found a way to be productive anyway. Suspended the first two games as part of the long-running StarCaps case. Started the other 14, playing 818 snaps (77.3%). Credited with 57 tackles, including 34 solo, 14 for loss and five sacks -- three of them in 2.8 seconds or less. Had seven additional QB hits and 37 total pressures. Saw extra attention in the run game because of poor nose tackle play next to him and was neutralized for stretches. Submarined for a bunch of short-yardage stops. Took four penalties, including a personal foul for lowering his helmet into Chicago QB Jay Cutler's grill. Batted two passes. Forced a fumble on his sack at Atlanta. Still knows how to defeat blocks at the point. Due $7.5 million in base salary and bonuses next season, Williams is due for a restructured contract, but he's good enough even at age 31 that number isn't totally outlandish.

Everson Griffen (C-): A moody guy prone to mental lapses, Griffen sure made a lot of plays when he was locked in. Played only 268 snaps (25.3%) over 16 games, yet ranked fourth on the team with four sacks and had 14 total QB pressures. Showed a variety of pass-rush moves from both end spots. Also worked inside some as a nickel rusher and held up well in limited turns as a standup linebacker in a 3-3 alignment. Dropped to break up a third-down pass at Detroit. Tipped a pass that led to an interception. Recovered an errant snap against New Orleans. Was OK in the run game, too. Took nine penalties, including four on special teams, where his athleticism paid off as a 273-pound gunner. Ranked second on the team 18 special-teams tackles (12 solo) and forced a fumble. Recovered an onside kick. Overpursued on Randall Cobb's 80-yard TD return at Green Bay. Made a saving stop on Cobb in the other meeting. Drew a personal foul for jacking Chicago's Devin Hester after a fair catch, but it scared Hester so much coaches didn't care. The question isn't whether Griffen should get more time, but how a team so deep at end can get him on the field.

Letroy Guion (D+): A preseason standout, Guion couldn't carry over that production to his contract year. Benched after two offsides penalties late at San Diego and never seemed to have the same edge. Played 516 snaps (48.8%) over 16 games, starting the first two in Williams' place and a third at Washington. Recorded 35 tackles, including 20 solo and four for loss. Had a key third-down stop at Detroit. Hustled to recover a fumble against Chicago. Had 14 QB pressures but mostly was ineffective as a nickel rusher. Wiped too often in the run game. Humiliated on HB Matt Forte's TD run at Chicago. Took four penalties. Played several snaps as a goal-line fullback with some success. Blocked a field goal against Oakland. Guion still is only 24 years old, but it's worth wondering how much longer the Vikings are willing to wait for him to fulfill his potential.

Remi Ayodele (D+): Signed on July 29 as the heir to longtime NT Pat Williams, Ayodele struggled just to get on the field. Played only 253 snaps (23.9%) over 16 games, starting 13. Credited with 22 tackles (11 solo, one for loss). Preferred to anchor from a shade technique instead of playing a tilt like Williams and rarely got into the backfield. Had a bum ankle at midseason that might have slowed him down. Pancaked on second-and-goal against the Packers. Didn't even get on the field until the fourth quarter at Green Bay. Had his best three-game stretch late in the season, with a sack in 2.4 seconds against Denver and a piece of another at Detroit. Ayodele figures to return, but the Vikings probably need to pursue alternatives to make sure they firm up the nose.

Fred Evans (D+): Re-signed to a one-year deal on July 31, Evans was typically enticing and inconsistent. Played 281 snaps (26.6%) over 16 games. Finished with 35 tackles, including 23 solo and five for loss. Took four penalties -- including an encroachment violation that sealed the decision at San Diego, a false start that wiped out a field goal against Green Bay and a dumb penalty for jacking Saints G Carl Nicks in the face on third-and-10. Athletic enough to generate regular penetration but also gets washed far too often. Struggles to anchor against combo blocks. Railroaded out of his gap on the run that clinched a loss to Green Bay. Had six total QB pressures. A favorite of GM Rick Spielman, Evans might be back but is running out of chances at age 28.

Christian Ballard (D): A fourth-round draft pick (106th overall) out of Iowa, Ballard got opportunities at multiple spots and didn't do much with them. Played 224 snaps (21.2%) over 16 games, starting two. Split time between end and tackle, getting most of his work as a nickel rusher. Generated two QB hits and eight total pressures. Played 23 and 27 snaps in the first two games, respectively. Limited pass rush yielded more than 19 snaps only once after that. Forced a fumble against Oakland. Credited with 12 tackles (six solo), plus four tackles (three solo) on special teams. Doubled past the play on Devin Hester's TD return at Chicago. Took two penalties. Might be better off focusing on one position to progress in his second season.

D'Aundre Reed (I): A seventh-round draft pick (215th overall) out of Arizona, Reed was inactive for all 16 games. Made several plays in training camp before a calf injury slowed him down. Had dominant stretches in practice. Figures to push for playing time next season, although that can be hard to come by with such a deep group.

Linebackers

Erin Henderson (C+): Thrust into a starting role for the first time, Henderson showed signs he might have a future at weakside linebacker. Played 569 snaps (53.8%), coming off the field in most subpackage situations. Missed one game with a hamstring injury. Recorded 91 tackles, including 56 solo and eight for loss. Forced two fumbles. Caught guessing and getting out of his gap at times. Picked off too easily in the hole if flat-footed. Acquitted himself relatively well in limited opportunities as the nickel mike, allowing 22 completions in 29 targets (75.9%) for 167 yards and an 89.3 rating. Broke up two passes. Showed good instincts and reactions in zone coverage. Worked off a double team for his first career sack at San Diego. Had another half-sack in the finale. Totaled eight QB pressures. Did not take a penalty. Headed for unrestricted free agency, Henderson may get a better offer someplace else if the Vikings continue to view him as a part-time player.

Chad Greenway (C): Named to his first Pro Bowl as an alternate last month, Greenway nonetheless took a step back after signing a five-year, $41 million contract the week before the opener. Played a team-high 1,056 snaps (99.8%). Led the team with a career-high 174 tackles, including 104 solo and 13 for loss. Just wasn't as dynamic or impactful in his sixth season. Missed 16 tackles. Allowed 67 completions in 85 targets (77.9%) for 717 yards, five touchdowns and a 120.8 rating. Broke up five passes. Missed his lone chance at an interception. Put in a lot of tough spots by the Vikings' reliance on a Cover-2 defense they couldn't execute correctly. Took five penalties. Got his wind knocked out at Kansas City but only missed one snap. Dislocated an elbow against Denver and didn't miss any. Played with a brace the rest of the season. Hustled to recover a fumble at Carolina, where he also drew a key holding call on WR Steve Smith and then dumped Smith on third-and-7 to give the Vikings a chance. Cleaned up for sacks against Oakland and Detroit. Couldn't wrap up two others against the Panthers. Generated 12 total QB pressures as a blitzer. Didn't benefit from Mike Singletary's facemask-to-facemask philosophy. Seemed to have extra juice when Frazier was calling the signals against Oakland and Atlanta. At age 28, Greenway should have better days ahead if he's allowed to hit and run his way.

E.J. Henderson (C-): Two years removed from a major leg injury at age 31, Henderson had his body fail him from the start. Played 79 snaps in the opener, underwent an X-ray the next week because of swelling in his left knee and never seemed the same in space. Did play in all 16 games (14 starts). Reduced to a part-time role in five around midseason to ease stress on the knee. Played 866 snaps (81.9%). Ranked second on the team in tackles (130), solo tackles (81) and tackles for loss (16). Missed 10 tackles. Remained at his best when playing downhill and firing through gaps. Forced three fumbles. Continued to decline in coverage, allowing 38 completions in 46 targets (82.6%) for 372 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.9 rating. Struggled to get enough depth to cover the deep middle in Tampa-2. Took a 26-yard pass interference penalty against New Orleans. Just seemed a step slow when trying to change directions or break on the ball in the open field. Embarrassingly hurdled by Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew on third-and-10 at Detroit. Beat running backs for sacks against Carolina and Oakland. Had six total QB pressures. Gutted it out all season even when he wasn't 100% healthy. Henderson should draw some interest on the open market, but his age and declining mobility with that titanium rod in his leg suggest his days as a three-down player are over.

Kenny Onatolu (D): A core special-teams player, Onatolu ranked third with 15 tackles (13 solo) on coverage units but marred his season with several critical errors. Took a costly personal foul against Detroit. Missed three tackles. Couldn't bring down Randall Cobb on an 80-yard punt return touchdown at Green Bay. Was offside on an onside kick against New Orleans. Played 64 snaps (6.0%) in four appearances on defense -- including his first NFL start against Oakland -- and held up OK. A restricted free agent, Onatolu figures to get the low tender and, at age 29, will have to beat out younger players to keep his spot.

Larry Dean (D): Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Valdosta State, Dean made the team out of camp and appeared in all 16 games -- joining Ballard as the only rookies to do so. Mostly played on special teams, ranking fourth on the team with 14 tackles (nine solo). Played six snaps (0.6%) in garbage time at Chicago, where he missed a tackle on a long return.

Xavier Adibi (F): Claimed off waivers from Houston on Sept. 4, Adibi played in four games on special teams and was inactive for 12 others. Assisted on one tackle. Stacked at the point on a long kick return against Denver. Didn't get any work on defense even when the Hendersons were beat up. Set to enter unrestricted free agency, Adibi almost surely won't be back.

Jasper Brinkley (I): Underwent hip surgery on Aug. 30. Placed on injured reserve on Sept. 3. A fifth-round draft pick in 2009, Brinkley figures to get a chance to win the starting job at base middle linebacker if E.J. Henderson isn't re-signed.

Tyrone McKenzie (I): Signed to the practice squad on Sept. 7 and spent the entire season there. Seemingly a pet project for Frazier, who regularly was seen speaking with McKenzie after practice. Re-signed to a futures contract after the season.

Defensive backs

Antoine Winfield (C+): Coming off a bounce-back season, Winfield once again succumbed to injuries at age 34. Played only 322 snaps (30.4%). Missed four games with a somewhat mysterious neck strain. Returned at Green Bay, where he suffered the broken clavicle that ended his season. Allowed 27 completions in 36 targets (75.0%) for 240 yards and an 80.8 rating. Caught a tipped interception at San Diego. Had another bounce off his hands at Kansas City. Made 42 tackles (34 solo) and missed two, although there were several others he didn't make as he has in the past. Didn't play in the base defense initially against the Packers, only to get forced into action and break the collarbone while running down TE Jermichael Finley on a slant that went for 31 yards. Winfield's reduced snap count triggered a clause in his contract that lowered his base salary, so he figures to return next season. The extent of his role will depend on who else is in the secondary.

Husain Abdullah (C): So impressive out of the gate in his second season as a starter the Vikings offered him a contract extension, Abdullah endured a three-game nightmare, then succumbed to the concussion issues that have plagued him for two years. Played 564 snaps (53.3%). Started nine games, was inactive the next two after his second concussion at Green Bay and then was placed on injured reserve. Allowed 16 completions in 23 targets (69.6%) for 322 yards, four touchdowns and a 133.6 rating -- fourth-highest in the NFL among safeties who played at least 25% of snaps. Held his own against Chargers TE Antonio Gates in the opener. Intercepted a late seam throw against Tampa Bay. Ran into trouble starting in Week 6 at Chicago, where he botched his Cover-1 assignment on a 48-yard touchdown to WR Devin Hester and missed two opportunities to create turnovers. Lost sight of Packers WR Greg Jennings on a scramble play that led to a 79-yard touchdown the next week and whiffed on a tackle at the sticks on the final drive. Then missed a jam on Panthers TE Greg Olsen, who ran the seam for a 39-yard score. Made 65 tackles (48 solo, three for loss) and missed four. Had a cleanup sack at Carolina. Took two penalties on special teams. After visiting two concussion specialists, Abdullah says he wants to keep playing, but the concussion issues suggest the Vikings are unlikely to count on him as more than their No. 3 safety.

Chris Cook (C): A second-round draft pick in 2010, Cook was playing the best football of his young career before an Oct. 22 arrest on domestic assault charges threw his future into doubt. Deactivated against the Packers because he was in jail, then suspended indefinitely. Reinstated on Nov. 7 but spent the rest of the season on paid leave, which didn't sit well in the locker room. Played 253 snaps (23.9%) over six games (three starts). Allowed 15 completions in 25 targets (60.0%) for 187 yards, a touchdown and a 96.6 rating. Defended seven passes. Took two penalties -- both in the opener at San Diego, where he was flagged for defensive pass interference and illegal contact and RB Mike Tolbert ran over him at the sticks on third-and-8. Boxed out for a 32-yard touchdown by Lions WR Calvin Johnson but otherwise held up well in that matchup, breaking up two passes and making a touchdown-saving tackle on third-and-goal. Missed two snaps after a hard fall at Chicago. Made 19 tackles (14 solo) and missed one. Seemed to be figuring out how to use his press ability and long levers to his advantage. Right or wrong, if Cook avoids a felony conviction, he'll get a chance to redeem himself with the Vikings and has the skills to return as a starter.

Cedric Griffin (D+): Returning from his second major knee injury in less than nine months, Griffin epitomized the defense's dysfunction. Played 921 snaps (87.1%). Allowed 42 completions in 64 targets (65.6%) for 580 yards, five touchdowns and a 114.1 rating. Was so slow to react at times it was unclear if he was having problems with the knees or just being lazy. Took eight penalties, tying for ninth-most among NFL cornerbacks. Began to melt down at Kansas City, giving up a 52-yard touchdown and taking two penalties. Held out the first series the next week against Arizona for disciplinary reasons. Embarrassed by Packers WR Jordy Nelson with a stiff arm on the way to a 17-yard TD at Green Bay. Removed from the base defense for the final two series against Denver, but was on the field in nickel to give up the go-ahead touchdown in man coverage against WR Demaryius Thomas. Benched after playing the wrong technique on a 57-yard TD pass to Detroit WR Titus Young. Didn't play on defense the following week against New Orleans. Returned to the lineup the last two weeks, played better and made a diving interception in the finale against Chicago that suggested he might not be totally finished. Led the Vikings with 11 passes defended. Forced three fumbles, plus another wiped out by a penalty. Credited with 81 tackles (58 solo). Missed six. Griffin turns 30 in November, has lost explosion from the knee injuries and probably won't be back for $4.1 million in base salary next season even if he repairs the bridges he has burned.

Asher Allen (D+): Nearly waived after missing most of the preseason with a toe injury, Allen ended up not only taking a prominent role on defense, but shadowing opponents' best receivers in several games. Played 519 snaps (49.1%) over 13 games (nine starts), missing one game each because of the toe, a shoulder injury and a concussion. Allowed 38 completions in 52 targets (73.1%) for 480 yards, a touchdown and a 99.8 rating. Made a sprawling interception on a tipped ball against Arizona. Defended seven passes. Competed admirably given the circumstances in shadows on Carolina's Steve Smith, Green Bay's Greg Jennings and Oakland's Denarius Moore. Made 47 tackles (39 solo) and missed five. Took four penalties, plus three on special teams, where he was credited with two solo tackles. Always overmatched on the perimeter, Allen could get expanded subpackage duty in the slot if he stays healthy and keeps progressing.

Jamarca Sanford (D+): A full-time starter for the first time, Sanford confirmed he's just a special teamer. Played 842 snaps (79.6%) over 15 starts, missing one game and part of another because of a concussion. Dropped out of two other games with shoulder trouble, plus a third with fatigue. Missed two tackles on the winning drive at San Diego and it was mostly downhill from there. Allowed 20 completions in 31 targets (64.5%) for 344 yards, eight touchdowns and a 114.8 rating. Caught two gift-wrapped interceptions late against Arizona. Ranked third with 118 tackles (77 solo). Missed 10. Recovered a fumble early in an otherwise-brutal performance against Denver in which he blew tackles on two touchdowns, allowed a third through the air and also got stacked at the point on a long kick return. Kept getting off his landmark, although the lack of reroutes from corners didn't help him. Took a weak personal foul against New Orleans. Played a more limited role on special teams and finished with even tackles (four solo). Sanford is a solid coverage-unit player, and that's almost surely the role he'll return to next season.

Marcus Sherels (D+): Staked to the punt return job in his first full season, Sherels had a 53-yarder against Detroit but averaged only 8.4 yards on 33 returns -- 23rd in the NFL among players with at least 20 chances. Showed a lack of awareness on several occasions, making poor decisions near his own end zone. Actually was better in limited chances on kick returns, with bursts of 78, 46 yards and 35 yards aiding his 27.8 average in 16 chances. Made his NFL debut in the dime defense against Arizona. Ended up playing 296 snaps (28.0%) on defense, starting three games and getting much of his action in the nickel. Allowed 29 completions in 39 targets (74.4%) for 347 yards, two touchdowns and a 118.2 rating. Defended three passes. Struggled to get reroutes because of his size. Surprisingly tough as a tackler, making 24 stops (20 solo, one for loss) with three misses. Took one penalty. Handled a variety of duties on coverage units, making six tackles (four solo). Got stacked on big plays against Oakland and Washington. If everyone's healthy, Sherels is no more than a dime guy who could develop as a returner as he learns the position.

Mistral Raymond (D+): A sixth-round draft pick (170th overall) out of South Florida, Raymond was inactive for the first six games, spent the next two on special teams and then worked his way into the rotation at safety. Played 379 snaps (35.8%). Started the last five games. Recorded 36 tackles (15 solo), two QB hits, a fumble recovery and an interception at Washington that broke a lengthy drought. Allowed five completions in eight targets (62.5%) for 42 yards, three touchdowns and a 76.0 rating. Missed four tackles, including one on a screen that went for 37 against New Orleans. Struggled with discipline on special teams. Missed a chance for a fumble recovery at Carolina. Lost contain on a 55-yard kick return at Green Bay and a 36-yarder against Oakland. Took two penalties against Denver. Had two solo teams tackles. Twice dropped out with cramps and needs to work on hydration. Looks timid at times against a head of steam. If Raymond can bulk up, he should at least have a chance to win a job at free safety, although the future at that position couldn't be muddier.

Benny Sapp (D+): Signed off the street on Nov. 16, more than two months after Miami cut him, Sapp ended up playing 371 snaps (35.1%) over seven games (three starts) for a Vikings team desperate to find a competent corner. Bounced between the nickel and left cornerback, depending who was available. Recorded 27 tackles, including 21 solo and two for loss. Missed four, yielding first downs at Atlanta and Washington. Allowed 20 completions in 29 targets (69.9%) for 224 yards, two touchdowns and a 114.7 rating. Just seemed to guess a lot to cover for his conditioning. Willing to press anyone, but his effort ran hot and cold. Defended five passes. Forced a fumble. Benched the first two snaps against New Orleans for missing a team meeting. Cited for fifth-degree assault and careless driving after an incident at Children's Hospital two days before the finale. Frazier loves Sapp, but he's unsigned at age 31 and doesn't fit with the Vikings' youth movement.

Tyrell Johnson (D): Down to his last chance to live up to his second-round draft status, Johnson failed to win a starting job again and often appeared lost when he did get on the field. Played 325 snaps (30.7%), mostly splitting time with Sanford and making spot starts against Green Bay, Oakland and Atlanta. Finished with 33 tackles (22 solo). Missed three. Allowed eight completions in 14 targets (57.1%) for 123 yards and an 86.3 rating. Had several notable busts, including a collision he caused with a bad angle at Kansas City and a 44-yard completion he misplayed on fourth-and-15 at Carolina. Couldn't handle two potential interceptions. Took two penalties. Issued a public apology after a Sept. 20 arrest on a fourth-degree DWI charge. Had his best game on special teams five days later against Detroit. Finished with four tackles (two solo) on coverage units. Tore his right hamstring off the bone at Atlanta while trying to rescue Sapp's blown coverage and is in the midst of a lengthy recovery as he prepares to enter free agency. The Vikings probably will cut bait, but Johnson is physically talented enough someone will give him another chance once he's healthy.

Eric Frampton (D): Re-signed to a three-year deal before the season, Frampton was the Vikings' most productive coverage-units player. Recorded a career-high four tackles (two solo) on special teams in the opener. Finished with 22 special-teams tackles (17 solo), leading the team. Missed two. Took two penalties. Downed a punt inside the 1-yard line to set up a safety against Oakland. Also stacked on a 46-yard kickoff return in that game and pancaked at the point on two big returns at Detroit. Did not see action on defense. As long as Frampton continues to lead on teams, it probably won't matter he's nothing more than an emergency option on defense.

Brandon Burton (D-): A fifth-round draft pick (139th overall) out of Utah, Burton didn't dress until injuries thinned the secondary and struggled when he did. Appeared in 10 games. Limited to special teams duty in seven of them, getting in on six tackles (four solo). Played 70 snaps (6.6%) on defense, beginning against Denver on Dec. 4, when he didn't get a jam on a 40-yard completion, missed a tackle on a touchdown run and was carried into the end zone on another score. Allowed completions on all four passes into his coverage for 75 yards and a 118.8 rating. Couldn't get lined up in a single snap of dime against Washington. Seemed to shy away from contact in space. Lacks the quickness to play the slot. Burton showed well in practice, but he has a long way to go to earn a subpackage role.

Jarrad Page (I): Signed to the active roster on Nov. 29. Appeared in five games, mostly on special teams. Made two relief appearances on defense, playing 13 snaps (1.2%). Recorded one solo tackle, plus an assist on special teams. Set to become a free agent in March and probably won't be back.

Andrew Sendejo (I): Signed to the active roster on Nov. 29. Recorded three tackles (two solo) in three games on special teams. Inactive for two others. Signed through next season but probably not in the team's future plans.

Reggie Jones (I): Signed to the practice squad on Nov. 9 and spent the last eight weeks there. Re-signed to a futures contract after the season.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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