Defensive Line Depth is Still a Major Concern

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Jul 29, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (99) and Za'Darius Smith (55) warm up during training camp at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

As the Vikings prepare for Week 1 against the Packers, there is still a glaring issue. The team appears to be significantly improved compared to 2020 and 2021, at least on paper. However, the defensive line depth is still a major concern.

KAM and KOC have done a great job in bringing in players like Za’Darius Smith and Harrison Phillips. However, the depth behind them is still a bit lackluster. There is a serious concern for the Vikings if Smith and/or Hunter aggravate their injuries.

There are other concerns with the interior defensive line as well. I noticed throughout the preseason how easily the backup interior defensive line guys were moved off the ball. This will not bode well over time.

Eventually, Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson will need a breather. Hopefully, this is only when it is a clear passing down because if it isn’t, the Vikings are in trouble.

This is an unfortunate reality that will be dealt with all year. There was simply no way for KAM to make any more moves than he did this off-season. The positions of need in the draft were all in the secondary and offensive line. Hopefully, this does not come back to bite the Vikings. Let’s take a look at the backups and their weaknesses.

Vikings Interior Defensive Line Backups are Pass Rushers

Vikings Trade for Defensive Lineman, Cut Armon Watts
Nov 28, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) runs with the ball as Houston Texans defensive tackle Ross Blacklock. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.

According to the newest depth chart, the starting defensive line shows Harrison Phillips at nose tackle with Jonathan Bullard and Dalvin Tomlinson at defensive end. Behind those three are Ross Blacklock, James Lynch, and Esezi Otomewo.

The concern for the Vikings has nothing to do with the starters. These guys were monsters in the limited action they saw in the preseason. No, the real issue is Blacklock, Lynch, and Otomewo.

One of Blacklock’s major issues in Houston was how easily he got washed out of running plays. In fact, it was one of his weaknesses in his draft profile. If the Vikings end up in a situation with Blacklock as a starter, the run defense could suffer immensely. However, the Vikings will utilize his quickness in stunts on passing downs.

Lynch is an interesting player. He has had numerous ups and downs. However, the image of Lynch being pancaked by the Broncos center in the preseason is seared into my brain. That entire game felt like a run defense disaster. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings utilize Lynch in this defensive scheme. Perhaps that play was an anomaly, and he will play better in the regular season.

Lastly, Otomewo is a rookie who has yet to see NFL action against starting quality offensive linemen. His draft profile suggests that he is capable of maintaining gap integrity. This will be something to watch for if we see him rotating during the regular season.

Ultimately, there is a lot to be desired with these backups. Hopefully, we do not need to use them frequently, as that could lead to similar defensive struggles we saw in 2020 and 2021.

Mitch Massman is a life-long Vikings fan. His first heartbreak was the 1998 NFC championship game. His full-time job is as an economic development professional in rural Minnesota. He fantasizes about the Vikings winning a Super Bowl one day, but until then he will write about the Vikings. Follow him on Twitter @skol_vikings3

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