New DC Confirms Fundamental Change for Vikings Defense

New DC Confirms Fundamental Change to Vikings Defense
Ed Donatell

The Minnesota Vikings will no longer play a base 4-3 defense.

Those days are over – or at least paused. The Vikings have existed for 61 seasons, and 60 of those campaigns showcased a 4-3 defense. The lone exception was 1985.

Now, with the vision of new coaches Kevin O’Connell, Ed Donatell, and Mike Pettine, Minnesota is transitioning to a 3-4 defense, more in tune with the league’s evolution. Donatell spoke on Thursday to the media, affirming the Vikings plan to shift in a 3-4 direction while still holstering some 4-3 looks.

Ed Donatell
Ed Donatell

For a franchise led by Mike Zimmer – a king of the 4-3 scheme – the swap to a 3-4 is seismic news. Well, it’s particularly noteworthy for fans obsessed with the Xs and Os of football – the guys and gals who dive into schemes and formations.

No longer will Vikings defenses display an EDGE rusher, nose tackle, three-technique defensive tackle, and other EDGE rusher as the base defense upfront. Instead, three defensive linemen will begin plays with hands in the “dirt” while four linebackers – with two generally as pass rushers – rush the quarterback. The practice is prevalent in the NFL as the league switched to a more 3-4-happy place over the years. The Vikings have now embraced the trend.

Interestingly, Donatell was asked about Danielle Hunter – a 4-3 EDGE rusher by trade – and Donatell seamlessly replied that Hunter will become a pass-rushing outside linebacker, like a Khalil Mack type. Indeed, Hunter’s physical skillset is outstandingly suited for the assignment, but it is genuinely a change of pace for the 27-year-old LSU alumnus.

On his plan for Minnesota’s defense, Donatell explained:

“It’s going to be a multiple, dictating 3-4 and 4-3 defense. That will make us hard to play against. Everything we do will make it hard for the quarterback. We’re going to set hard edges, we’re going to be a great tackling outfit. Takeaways are a foundational piece.”

– Ed Donatell | Minnesota Vikings

With all of that in mind, Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has a tall order in the next month. He must rebuild a defense, needing 4+ starters on a budget upside-down by $15 million at the moment. Adofo-Mensah’s predecessor, Rick Spielman, often encountered this problem – and solved it – but now Adofo-Mensah gets a taste. The Vikings need an EDGE rusher, a linebacker (two if Anthony Barr leaves), and 2-3 cornerbacks.

A miniature rebuild of the old Zimmer defense must be enacted on the fly if Minnesota wants to contend for the playoffs in 2022. The coaching philosophy is there – Donatell was fantastic in talking about his strategy – but the players are not on the roster right now to make the 2022 defense optimally operate.

That’s what free agency and the NFL draft are for – and those events are not far away.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).