Training camp preview: Scouting the Vikings' defensive line
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Each weekday until the Minnesota Vikings report to training camp on July 29, 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero breaks down the roster at another position, based on offseason practice observations and conversations with coaches, scouts and personnel people around the NFL. Day 4: Defensive line.
On the roster (12)
Long shot: DT Tremaine Johnson.
The Vikings return the top seven players from one of the NFL's deepest and most talented defensive fronts. Allen (6-6, 270) has 44½ sacks over the past three seasons, including 14½ in each of his seasons with the Vikings, and remains one of the league's most impactful players at age 28. Edwards (6-5, 268) came on late last season, recording six sacks over the final four games (including playoffs), and is ranked by some scouts among the top pure left ends. He skipped the entire offseason program in protest of getting the first-round restricted tender ($2.521 million) instead of a long-term deal, but he's expected to report on time for training camp. The top backup end, Robison (6-3, 259) matched a career high with 4½ sacks last season in limited action. He failed to trigger an escalator in his deal and thus is a bargain backup this season ($550,000).
Kevin Williams (6-5, 311) turns 30 next month but is showing no signs of decline. He led the Vikings' interior last season with six sacks and 36 hurries on the way to his fifth Pro Bowl. Pat Williams (6-3, 317) is nearing the end at age 37 and is coming off elbow surgery. He's still among the NFL's best run-stuffers, but it remains to be seen if he plays beyond this, the final year of his four-year contract, which will pay him $4.6 million. The Vikings hung onto Evans (6-4, 305) by giving him the second-round tender ($1.759 million), showing again how far he's come on and off the field since the Miami Dolphins cut him in 2007 following two arrests. Kennedy (6-4, 320) has to be on a limited snap count at age 30, but he played well enough over the past season-plus to get a two-year, $5 million deal in March that included a $1 million roster bonus.
Griffen (6-3, 273) is a highly talented speed rusher who made a positive impression during the offseason, but training camp will be the first true test of his professionalism. A five-year veteran who's almost always been nicked up, Montgomery (6-5, 282) is a try-hard guy who's OK against the run but offers no pass rush. He signed a one-year deal with a minimum base salary ($630,000) in March after the Green Bay Packers cut him. Some scouts still like Guion (6-4, 303) despite his limited playing time over the past two seasons. Mitchell (6-6, 285) spent the entire 2008 season on injured reserve with a knee injury, then got into only four games last season.
There aren't a ton of snaps to go around behind Allen and Edwards, so Griffen's development will be worth watching. The Southern California product's high-maintenance reputation dropped him from first-round consideration to the fourth round in April, and he still needs to develop a counter move. Deliver in Mankato, and coaches will have to give serious consideration to mixing in Griffen with Robison -- and getting an advance look at their options should Edwards and/or Robison bolt as free agents after the season.
One NFL scout's take on ... rookie Everson Griffen
"I think you guys have got yourselves a heck of a pass rusher. The biggest questions on him really revolved around his personal maturity. There were some knocks against his maturity level and just kind of the way that he conducted himself. Was he a professional? Did he come to work every day? And those sort of things. I think there'll be some growing pains from that standpoint. But you guys have a strong veteran locker room in Minnesota. You pick a guy like that and then you just let those veterans self-police and sit on his head and show him how to come along. I think that could end up being a heck of a pick in the fourth round."
The line combined for 38½ of the team's NFL-best 48 sacks last season and is a big reason the Vikings have ranked first or second in rushing defense four consecutive years. One NFC pro scout said he'd put all four starters in the top three at their respective positions. Though there's a natural drop-off from the starters to the backups, solid depth gives the Vikings a chance to weather a key injury up front, too. Unless the long-delayed StarCaps suspensions come down unexpectedly, sidelining the Williamses for four games, this unit should remain one of the Vikings' greatest strengths this season.