CAMP BATTLES: The Run Stoppers

The Vikings avoided taking a hit to their depth at defensive tackle this offseason by renegotiating the contract of veteran Kevin Williams.  Additionally, they bolstered the position for this season, and into the future, by spending one of their first round picks on Florida standout Sharrif Floyd.

The also spent a late pick on Florida State tackle Everett Dawkins in an effort to proactively ease the inevitable transition the front four will see very soon.  Dawkins may have an uphill battle to make the roster, but it is obvious the Vikings are preparing to move on from at least some of their current veterans, such as Williams.

While nose tackle Letroy Guion had a disappointing first year a starter, veteran Fred Evans showed up big on a number of key plays last season, and they should continue to compete for each other’s playing time.  Fourth year player Christian Ballard has been largely mediocre throughout his career so far, but even he has shown some flashes that provide some intrigue heading into 2013.

Second year player Chase Baker, along with undrafted rookie Anthony McCloud, round out the competition for spots on the bottom of the depth chart.

Age and injuries seem to be catching up with Williams, as he hasn’t played at an all-pro level for a few years now, but he can still get the job done and the hope is that being fully health will actually result in some improved play.  It can’t hurt that he is now in the final year of his contract with the Vikings and has publicly stated his intention to play beyond 2013.  He will almost certainly go into the season as a starter, albeit rotated out of the lineup more often than we are used to seeing, but his presence will likely prove to be quite valuable as the season wears on.

Behind him, Floyd will have the luxury of both learning behind one of the game’s best and getting valuable snaps, as part of a rotation, at the same time.  As a prospect, Floyd is regarded as a player with extreme potential that is coming in equally as raw, so Minnesota seems to be a perfect fit.  While fans will be excited to see him in action, there is no reason to force him into too big of a role until it is a necessity or until he truly proves himself, both of which may not happen in his rookie season.  He will likely earn time as part of a rotation, as mentioned earlier, but it seems likely he will be behind Williams on the depth chart with a potential to be a permanent part of passing down packages.

A real battle to watch will be between Guion and Evans for the nose tackle snaps.  While they too are likely to be subject to a rotation, nobody should merely assume Guion retains the starting job he held last year.  Evans played fewer snaps than Guion last season, but Evans was the one who contributed more splash plays down the stretch.  The starting job next to Williams appears to be fully up for grabs.

Now, I assume each of the four guys mentioned above will make the roster.  With guys like Everson Griffen and Brian Robison capable of taking reps at the tackle position, it is possible that they are the only four that make the final cut.  Dawkins, McCloud, and Baker are all somewhat of an unknown at this point, but there could be room on the roster if one of them proves worthy of having a locker with their name on it throughout the preseason process.

Overall, there are a lot of question marks here, but there is also a lot of talent and potential.  The competition at the nose tackle spot, the battle for youngsters to prove themselves, and the transition from a long-time veteran to a first round rookie are all exciting storylines to follow over the next couple of months.  We will certainly be keeping a close eye on each one.