On Twitter this week a statement appeared in my timeline along the lines of “why do the Vikings sign so many defensive tackles?” I saw it about an hour or so before I saw on Twitter that Vikings rookie DT Jaylen Twyman was shot four times while visiting his aunt in Washington, D.C.—yet is expected to make a full recovery. One tweet could have answered the other, in some unintended, roundabout way. And while this unspeakable tragedy could have been much worse, it demonstrates that, like cornerbacks, you can never have enough defensive tackles, at least in this Mike Zimmer defense.
The news on Twyman, first reported by Adam Schefter, includes this from a follow-up tweet: “he was shot in the arm, leg, buttocks and shoulder, per his agent Drew Rosenhaus. Twyman is expected to be released from the hospital this week and ‘there doesn’t appear to be any long-term injuries that would prohibit him from playing this season.’”
Before you think I am making light of a bad situation, I am not. I can’t believe it happened; I can’t believe he will survive four gunshot wounds and be on track to play this coming season. The point is this happens (it really does—former Vikings DT Linval Joseph was shot in the leg at a local nightclub in 2014). And by this, I mean life. Life happens: people get sick or sit out to avoid sickness (Vikings DT Michael Pierce), players get injured, players get fed up and want to be traded or sign with another team (three Vikings cornerbacks in 2020), players make off the field mistakes and are suspended and players even die (RIP former Vikings OT Korey Stringer). Life happens, and an NFL team better be ready for it.
Zimmer is trying to rebuild his defense from a low point last season and there has been a lot of focus on the defensive front and the backfield (finding a new rotation of defensive backs). And while I originally thought the number of DBs the team signed in the offseason (six free agent CBs, to date, bringing the roster total to an amazing 15 cornerbacks) was becoming comical, when it comes to the both the D-line and secondary, I no longer think so. (Then again, maybe it is just a Minnesota thing.)
Twyman’s situation aside, the Vikings already have a broiling situation with second-year corner Jeff Gladney. Gladney was positioned to take a step forward in his development and make a move into the starting lineup. But an off-field domestic situation has curtailed that for the time being, as he was not on the field for OTAs and minicamp. Add to that an injury to the other second-year CB, Cameron Dantzler, who also is looking at a potential starting job, and the departure of oft-injured Mike Hughes and suddenly Zim’s “never enough corners” adage is ringing quite true.
The Vikings are reasonably set at linebacker, with longtime starters Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks returning from injury. And with another eight on the roster, Zim will be able to cobble a decent rotation together. Safeties, meanwhile, only number five on the 90-man roster, so perhaps someone from that long list of CBs might be pulling double-duty by the end of training camp, if there are some corners Zim simply can’t part with.
There may be a method to the madness (let’s hope), on both the D-line and secondary, as the Vikings brought in a couple veterans to help with the on-field general-ing and the locker room leadership. Patrick Peterson at corner and Sheldon Richardson at DT will both be leading by experience and performing on the field this season, and it will be fun to see what each has left in the tank. The word on PP is that he has lost a step over the years, but that really wasn’t what we heard coming out of mini-camp. And Richardson returns to Minnesota after two years in Cleveland and reportedly took less money to do so, a sign we don’t often see in Minnesota professional sports (which feels kind of good). To be sure, CB Mackenzie Alexander is another expatriate scrambling back to deep purple after a year away.
In the final analysis, the number of players in these units are quite interesting to behold, but they no longer bother me as too many. Life happens (just ask Minnesota Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton, who had just returned from a lengthy rehab stint only to get hit by a pitched baseball and break his hand), and it comes at you quickly in the NFL. Zim doesn’t want to be caught behind the eight-ball like last season when the number of corners on the roster didn’t fill the need. Now it looks like the decision for a glut of DTs was warranted, as well. Get well soon, Jaylen.