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Updated: September 15th, 2011 11:39pm
Pelissero: Remi Ayodele showing there's more than one way to play nose

Pelissero: Remi Ayodele showing there's more than one way to play nose

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Remi Ayodele isn't Pat Williams, but that didn't stop the Minnesota Vikings from seeing if their new nose tackle could play a little more like the old one.

The first couple of days Ayodele practiced with the team last month, coaches had him try out a "tilt" technique, turning his body 45 degrees in hopes of helping him avoid double teams and get penetration as Williams did so often here for six seasons.

Ayodele isn't a penetrator, though. He's a classic space-eater -- strong, compact, relatively short at 6-foot-2 and an alleged 318 pounds.

"I know he's just as stout as Pat," Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said on Thursday. "Now, he doesn't know what we do as far as Pat being here six years, doing all the things we did. But I think he's catching up, and it showed on the field on Sunday, because he did some good things."

Ayodele played 29 snaps and was credited with only one assisted tackle in that game, a 24-17 loss at San Diego.

The Chargers averaged 2.9 yards on 27 carries, including a 21-yarder by Ryan Mathews on a play Ayodele watched from the sideline as a double team wiped backup Fred Evans.

"Most of the time, you're going to have a take two (blockers)," Ayodele said. "That just comes with the job. I just try to go in there and hold it down. Every now and then, we'll get single blocks. When we get single blocks, we've just got to dominate."

The Vikings play a one-gap system along the line, with the nose tackle playing from the one-technique position, aligned over the center's shoulder.

The goal of shading the players to one side, rather than playing them head-up over the ball (a zero-technique), is to give them more responsibility to take away the frontside A-gap.

"When you're using that tilt, you're hoping that that guy's got enough initial quickness that he can penetrate and thus be disruptive inside," said the personnel director for an AFC team who has studied Ayodele closely.

"I know that Remi can play a zero (technique). I know that he can stack a double team. Whether or not he's got that quickness to be able to penetrate and play in the gaps and that kind of stuff, I don't necessarily know if he can do that."

Williams was unique in that he could do both. His upper-body girth could be deceiving, because his lower half was remarkably athletic for a man his size.

But there was no denying Williams was in decline at age 38 -- especially last season, when he played 53.9% of the defensive snaps and recorded 42 tackles (30 solo), his fewest since 1998. Coach Leslie Frazier said repeatedly in the offseason he wanted to get younger along the line and return the Vikings to No. 1 in run defense.

So, the Vikings offered a three-year contract worth a reported $9 million to a player a decade younger in Ayodele, who mostly played his preferred shade technique as a two-year starter in New Orleans under Gregg Williams.

"I thought in '09 he had a really, really good year," an NFC personnel man said. "I thought he was just kind of a guy last year for the Saints. He's a big body. You have to block him."

And that's precisely what Ayodele views as his strength. He got in on 126 tackles (47 solo) over the past two seasons, but none for loss -- a statistical confirmation he's better holding his ground along the line of scrimmage than trying to get behind it.

Ayodele's main objection to playing the tilt technique is that smaller, faster centers such as Tampa Bay's Jeff Faine, whom he'll face in Sunday's home opener, can reach and step around him too easily on single blocks.

"They just want to get me on the other side of the center," Ayodele said. "If they can get me on the other side of the center, most of the time, they're going to get great yardage in the middle."

So, Ayodele stands square in the shade, doing his part to occupy a couple of offensive linemen for a few seconds and let the aggressive, downhill group of linebackers behind him go to work.

Remi Ayodele isn't Pat Williams. When it comes to being that anchor in the middle, though, Dunbar doesn't see much difference.

"We're built for power (running) teams," Dunbar said. "We're built for guys who want to come downhill, because we don't mind playing smashmouth football. That's what we do. Zone teams, we just tell our linebackers, 'Be ready to run, because we're going to flatten 'em out, and y'all got to go get 'em."

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.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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