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With Will Sutton Signing, Vikings Bolster Defensive Line

In signing former Chicago Bears defensive lineman Will Sutton, the Minnesota Vikings accomplished an important offseason goal: bolstering depth in the middle of Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Understandably so, the focus through free agency and the NFL Draft was improving the pieces around Sam Bradford. Minnesota’s offense sputtered through a forgettable 2016 campaign, forcing general manager Rick Spielman’s hand in shifting resources to that side of the ball.

Still, Zimmer’s unit suffered its setbacks last season, from Anthony Barr‘s regression to the uninspiring play of defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. The Vikings found a few solutions in the past few months, signing free agent Datone Jones and drafting Jaleel Johnson, two players expected to step in and contribute immediately.

With the Will Sutton signing, Zimmer now has the depth and flexibility in his front seven to feel comfortable heading into a pivotal 2017 season.

Sutton, a third-round (82nd-overall) pick by the Chicago Bears in 2014, spent his first three seasons in the Windy City. His rookie year, Sutton started five games and recorded 22 tackles. Over the next two seasons, he started just 13 more games, fizzling out with the arrival of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Fangio took over before the opening of the 2015 regular season, and early reports from ESPN indicated Sutton wouldn’t be a fit in the new defensive coordinator’s 3-4 scheme. Fangio, who orchestrated the dominant San Francisco 49ers defenses from 2011 to 2014, expressed the concern himself, reportedly preferring larger defensive linemen to undersized gap-shooters like Sharrif Floyd and Sutton.

In Minnesota, Sutton is expected to play nose tackle, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. At 290 pounds, he’s closer to his ideal playing weight and should be a better fit in the Vikings’ more flexible scheme. Given Linval Joseph‘s dominance and reliability on early downs, Sutton’s role is that of a pass-rushing specialist.

Zimmer loves to rotate defensive linemen—bringing Brian Robison inside on third downs, for example—and should make valuable use of the new pieces he’s acquired this offseason. To make room for Sutton, the Vikings waived second-year defensive tackle Toby Johnson.

Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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4 years ago

Kinda feel bad for Tommy Armstrong. They told him they couldn’t make any more cuts to keep him, then proceed to sign an OL and DL and then cut from the same groups. Guess they meant his position, not in general.

Dan T.
Dan T.
4 years ago

First off I like this signing, another division rival castoff that was playing in the wrong scheme like Datone Jones. This is a guy who’ll have a good chance at making the roster and contributing. I am surprised that they cut Toby though, especially with Floyd and Tom Johnson coming off major injuries and being question marks for camp. I would assume he was at the rookie camp, they must not have seen much improvement or maybe he was out of shape or something? Maybe they just decided having three DT’s with the last name Johnson was too much.

4 years ago

Tom Johnson actually graded out better in 2016 than in 2015, when he had more sacks, because his run defense was much better last year. Unfortunately, as PFF has pointed out about him, he has consistently been inconsistent, following a good year with a poor one and vice versa. At his age, if his run defense is looking shaky, Jones, J. Johnson and Sutton could push him off the roster altogether. My only question about the interior of the DL is is there anyone besides Joseph who we can count on in run defense? Does anyone know the respective run defense PFF scores for Jones, Sutton, Stephen and J. Johnson (CFF) over the last two or three years? The run defense wasn’t great last year and it has really been shaky whenever Joseph has missed time in the past as 3-Tech DT’s like Floyd have been forced to fill in for him.

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