The Minnesota Vikings offseason lurched out of the gate this off-season with departures of longstanding defensive players: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Andrew Sendejo, Stephen Weatherly, Everson Griffen (later on), and Linval Joseph. Under head coach Mike Zimmer, Minnesota has not seen this level of roster turnover, ever.
These names that are no longer scripted on the team’s depth chart are particularly noteworthy because many were defensive staples for Mike Zimmer. The Vikings have been a defense-first organization since Zimmer came to the Twin Cities six years ago, so this magnitude of change can be tangibly felt by Vikings loyalists.
Minnesota retooled the secondary with young cornerbacks in the draft, left the sturdy linebacking crew alone, and traded for Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in surprise fashion near the end of summer.
That brief synopsis covers all but one facet of the defense – the interior defensive line.
With the little cash Minnesota had on hand to start the offseason, general manager Rick Spielman spent a chunk of it on free-agent nose tackle, Michael Pierce. He was scheduled to heftily replace the outgoing Linval Joseph who signed on with the Los Angeles Chargers. In Pierce, the Vikings would enjoy a younger version of Joseph as both men are strong and robust defensive tackles.
Because the world is beset by a pandemic, the plan with Pierce was scrapped. The former Baltimore Raven said “no thanks” to this season because of health concerns related to the coronavirus. And, that’s ok. His contract is frozen in purple ice until next year, and the Vikings should still get three years of Michael Pierce’s meaty services.
Minnesota released its first rough draft of a depth chart on Labor Day. In the middle of the defensive line, Jaleel Johnson will take a stab at the three-technique spot and veteran Shamar Stephen will anchor the nose tackle position. The Vikings coaching staff sings Stephen’s praises on his substitutive capabilities for Michael Pierce.
Stephen could end up aptly stuffing the run, but where the heck is Snacks Harrison?
Harrison has not outwardly retired
His real name is Damon Harrison, just so there is no confusion.
The large and affectionately-named “Snacks” remains unsigned. Harrison is a prototypical, run-stuffing nose tackle that will be stuffing nobody’s runs if he stays unemployed. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012 – the same season as Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and safety Harrison Smith entered the NFL. Therefore, we know Harrison has some horsepower left to offer a nose-tackle-needy team. Snacks will be 32 in November.
Harrison played four seasons with New York Jets, three more with the New York Giants, and most recently held down the innards of the Detroit Lions defensive line. He is not a prolific sacker of quarterbacks but nose tackles generally are not on the whole.
What Harrison does tremendously is gobble up running backs. In 2016, he was elite. He was an All-Pro selection that notched 86 combined tackles, which led all defensive tackles in the NFL. In second place that year was the aforementioned Linval Joseph with 77 tackles.
A simple Google search shows no sign of Snacks’ retirement. Have you seen Damon “Snacks” Harrison?
Zimmer usually employs big-bodied nose tackles
From Domata Peko with the Cincinnati Bengals, Linval Joseph with Vikings, and nearly Michael Pierce, Mike Zimmer enjoys large men in the middle of his defensive line.
Snacks Harrison is a large man.
At 6’3″, 350lbs, Harrison fits the Zimmer profile. If you can believe it, he’s even 10lbs heavier than Linval Joseph, which is an achievement on its own. What’s more, big nose tackles are not merely a Mike Zimmer thing. This ilk of man is what most nose tackles aspire to be. They’re burly, beefy, and boorish.
Currently, the Vikings nose-tackle spot is inhibited by a man in Shamar Stephen that is 6’5″, 309lbs (unless he’s packed on recent poundage since being switched to NT). From a hopeful optimist approach, Stephen might be reared into a fine nose tackle. But this leaves a lot to chance, especially for a 2020 season that is theorized to be bountiful for the Vikings.
Without a bonafide nose tackle, the rush defense could suffer
The reality is that the Vikings run defense could be in a bit of jeopardy. All Mike Zimmer and fans have known since 2014 is the jolly Linval Joseph flattening folks. When he wasn’t doing that, he was scorching the earth with his feet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, en route to touchdowns.
In 2019, Minnesota ranked 13th-best in rushing yards allowed and third-best in rushing touchdowns allowed. These rankings were tallied thanks to a Joseph-Stephen tandem in the center of the defensive line, and of course, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter flanked on the edges.
A reconditioned line of (left-to-right) Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, and Yannick Ngakoue will undoubtedly smother quarterbacks to the turf. But the effectiveness of this group’s ability to stop the run is uncertain. It’s quite likely that Zimmer will “figure it out” as that is his modus operandi.
But a Gjallarhorn full of Snacks would surely be comfort food.