2014 Minnesota Vikings: A Difference Maker in the Middle

Photo courtesy of vikings.com

Aside from a handful of examples including the Brett Favre signing, the Vikings have never been a team to make flashy free agency moves during the off season. However, with ownership and the front office lead by Zygi Wilf and Rick Spielman, the team has been aggressive when there are specific players they’ve identified as priority additions.

This past off season was a great example of this with the Vikings quickly coming to agreement with former New York Giants nose tackle Linval Joseph.

Joseph is a young and talented player entering his 5th year in the league and is positioned to be a mainstay within a Vikings overhauled defensive line. Not only does Joseph add much needed talent to a defensive front seven, but he also fills a role the Vikings have been in search for since the departure of Pat Williams.

Williams was a fan favorite for years among Vikings faithful and for good reason. Williams was a disruptive force in the middle of a very good Vikings run defense. He consistently absorbed double teams while blowing up an offensive line, leaving plenty of space for his Williams counterpart, Kevin and Jared Allen to wreak havoc.

William’s ability to make offenses account for him is a luxury for his defensive teammates. Something Vikings defensive end Brian Robison touched on when he spoke with reporters after Sunday morning’s walk through.

“I can see the similarities with Pat,” Robison noted when asked about Linval. “His ability to take on double teams opens up space for others to play under him and get to the quarterback.”

Joseph has notable size and athleticism, and for a man weighing close to 325lbs, has a quick first step that helps him disrupt an offensive line and create pressure in the backfield. Joseph will undoubtedly help in stopping the run and as noted previously, head coach Mike Zimmer will make stopping the run a priority for the Vikings defense. Joseph’s presence and physicality will certainly help create that kind of mentality along the defensive line.

After sitting our portions of early OTAs, Joseph has wasted no time getting up to speed. Zimmer has noted that Joseph came to camp in fantastic shape and was bench pressing nearly 500lbs. I can’t comment on how that compares across the league, but I do think that is telling in terms of how seriously Joseph is taking the opportunity to earn his pay check with his new team.

Asked if he felt any extra pressure to perform for his new team, Joseph didn’t think there was any more pressure than usual.

“I don’t think there’s extra pressure, I just go out every day and do my best, get better and have fun,” Joseph said.

When asked how he was able to get up to speed so quickly with a new defense and team, Joseph credited the time he’s spent off the field.

“I think part of that are the mental reps,” Joseph told reporters. “You have to always be getting better with your understanding of the scheme. Even when I couldn’t be on the field with the team, I was there mentally thinking through the plays or my role”

Joseph also mentioned the mentality on the Vikings defense is shared with his former team, the New York Giants.

“It’s really the same kind of defensive mindset, we play fast and physical.” Joseph told reporters.

Joseph clearly knows his on the Vikings defense and sees himself as a difference maker. When speaking with reporters over the weekend, Joseph mentioned he doesn’t feel like the importance of the position is diminished by any means because the NFL is now viewed as a passing league.

While in Mankato during training camp, Vikings Territory’s very own editor Arif Hasan pointed out that Zimmer has yet to field a defense with a solid nose tackle. While in Cincinnati, Zimmer had one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Geno Atkins, but Atkins is a 3 technique tackle, a role that will be filled for the Vikings by 2nd year man Sharrif Floyd.

I wanted to take a look into this and I was surprised how poorly Cincinnati’s nose tackle Domata Peko graded out in 2013. Across the board, profootballfocus.com graded Peko negatively. In fact, Peko was ranked as the 4th worst nose tackle in 2013. Essentially, Zimmer fielded a very good defense compensating with a nose tackle who was clearly struggling. You can take that ranking for what it is worth. I can’t promise that I am an expert nose tackle evaluator, however, I do believe the profootballfocus grades are legitimate.

I don’t think this minimizes the impact a nose tackle can have, I think it speaks to Zimmer’s ability to find ways to make up for the weakness within his front seven defenders. Zimmer will now have the luxury of counting on his man in the middle to eat double teams and blow up run plays. This will ultimately free up the other defensive lineman and linebackers to make plays.

Obviously the Vikings feel the same way after handing out a 5y/$31.5M contract in free agency. Joseph will earn his keep by being an explosive force along the defensive line. As Robison noted, teams pass the ball on 1st and 2nd down and Joseph can be helpful in pressuring the quarterback.

Joseph doesn’t necessarily need to get to the quarterback to make an impact. During the first handful of practices during training camp, Joseph succeeded batting down multiple Matt Cassel passes.

The full impact that Joseph will have on the Vikings defense is yet to be seen, however, I don’t think there is any chance you can minimize the importance of his role with the team. With Joseph anchoring the middle of the defense, the Vikings front seven should find themselves with more space to make plays and less in their way to get to the quarterback.

I am headed back to Mankato tomorrow for the scrimmage under the lights. I’ll be watching Joseph closely against the 1st team offense. I do know one thing for sure, although they are on the same team, the offensive line will have their hands full with him.

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Brent LaBathe

Brent LaBathe (Contributor) Cloud technology leader by day, sports nut by night, Brent is a local purple diehard who's passion for the team boarders on obsession. After graduating from St. Cloud State in 2008, he was a contributing writer for mvn.com and has always had a passion for writing. When he's not cursing his golf clubs for failing him yet again, he's constantly on twitter @BrentLaBathe.

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  1. A coach that covers up weaknesses and uses talents. — What a novel concept in recent Vikingland

  2. It all starts up front. If Joseph can provide that pressure up the middle and command double-teams, it means someone’s going to be running free and the pressure on the QB goes way up, which decreases the time to wait for a receiver to get open. It was Phat Pat and K-Will’s tandem of excellence that kicked it off, opening space for Allen, Edwards, and Robison, masking the issues in the secondary by not giving the QBs much time. Hopefully we’ll see that again while Zimmer gets the new secondary rebuilt and up to speed.