Jared Allen, now 31, says 'this is the best I've felt in years'
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MANKATO, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings starting defensive line is the cornerstone of the defense, whether you're talking recent performance, depth or experience.
They're also the oldest position group on the team, starting three players over the age of 30. With the addition of first-round pick and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, as well as the emergence of defensive end Everson Griffen, the starters are vying for playing time they feel they've already earned.
"We want guys to be competitive, that want to go ahead and make plays for us," Coach Leslie Frazier said. "So that's a good problem to have."
Allen stepped onto veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams' soapbox for a brief moment to proclaim his recent injuries, age and the team's surge of young talent should not, or will not, keep him from taking nearly every snap this season.
Williams said last week that Frazier's prescribed 30-40 snaps a game for him were "low" and that the two would talk about it.
"I think for six years I've been facing this question, am I rotating, and I think I've won the battle most of the time," Allen said Tuesday. "So we'll see."
Allen underwent two surgeries on Jan. 31 -- one to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and another 'minor cleanup' of his right knee.
Allen played through his left shoulder injury all last season and still managed to compile 12 sacks, which is low considering his near-miss of Michael Strahan's single-season record in 2011 (Allen fell a 0.5 sack short with 22).
"This is the best I've felt in years," Allen said. "The [injuries] get tested [at training camp]. The knee thing was easy, the shoulder, [left tackle Matt] Kalil, he's been pushing me in this camp, giving me different sets, different looks. One thing I've been consciously doing is forcing myself to rush on rushes I couldn't do last year."
Age is not a tell-all factor for defensive linemen: a 30-year-old John Randle compiled 15.5 sacks for the Vikings in 1997; Strahan was 32 years old when he reached 18.5 sacks for the New York Giants in 2003.
But contracts will determine how much Williams (33 this month), Allen (31) and Brian Robison (30) will contribute to the Vikings in the future, as all linemen are in the final year of their current deals.
Griffen is the only real threat to take snaps this season from Allen, who also looked at the bright side of the situation.
"I'm looking forward to the less double teams," Allen said. "You've got Brian [Robison] and Everson [Griffen], consistent eight sacks...those guys slugging it out, with Kevin [Williams], what's going to help now is another year learning how to rush with a smaller line, gives us more familiarity of where the other one is going to be."
Frazier said the Vikings' depth will also help with the philosophy of having four pass rushers on the field at once in obvious passing scenarios.
"I mean that's one of the reasons we put Everson [Griffen] inside," Frazier said. "We did the same thing when Brian Robinson was in that role as a third in, when Ray Edwards was here, so we've always tried to get our best four rush passes on the field when we know that people are in a passing situation, so that's something we've always done."