Updated: August 14th, 2014 6:45pm
Fred Evans, Shamar Stephen filling in with NT Linal Joseph out

Fred Evans, Shamar Stephen filling in with NT Linal Joseph out

by Derek Wetmore
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. - Various players and coaches repeated the same refrain about Linval Joseph">Linval Joseph at the time of his unfortunate accident. They were happy he wasn't more seriously injured and that nobody was killed in the shooting at the 400 SoundBar in downtown Minneapolis.

But after it became clear that Joseph and the other victims were all right, the questions turned to how the Vikings would proceed. Joseph's injury left a gaping hole in the middle of the defensive line. He could feasibly start by week 1, according to Vikings GM Rick Spielman, but the team's new imposing nose tackle won't be easy to replace in the interim.

Mike Zimmer's vision of a defense demands a run-stuffing, block-occupying behemoth in the middle. This is not to suggest the freak injury is a blessing, but if there's one positive to take from the event it's that the Vikings probably can spend the next three preseason games evaluating their other options at nose tackle. That should allow them to mix and match and find out which combinations of players will work, and maybe even establish some chemistry.

"It's important because you never know in the course of the season or the course of a game, there are injuries, different circumstances, [like] people being able to perform better against certain opponents," Fred Evans said. "You just want to be able to be cohesive so when somebody else is plugged in, you don't look baffled as if you don't know what they're going to do. ... You're only as strong as the next person behind you."

Evans has been with the Vikings since 2007, most recently as a backup nose tackle to Letroy Guion. The Vikings used a seventh round pick on Shamar Stephen, a defensive tackle out of Connecticut.

Minnesota likely will use Evans and Stephen to fill the gap while Joseph works his way back to the field. That could be by week 1, or possibly even sooner. In the meantime, the Vikings will get a good look at the depth they have at the position.

"You don't prepare for games as if you're a backup...you prepare for games to play whenever your number is called," Evans said. He added that nose tackle in Zimmer's system is not really all that different from any other defense because regardless of your coach or coordinator, "99.9 percent of the time you've probably got two people coming at you so that's four hands on you all the time."

Evans appears likely to make the 53-man roster, even with the assumption Joseph soon will be ready to play. Stephen may yet have to prove definitively that he belongs, but it appears he's in the mix as the team enters the second preseason game Saturday.

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore
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