Addressing Defensive Tackles Worries

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Thursday’s big news came and went, and as has been the norm when this topic has been recently discussed, we have learned … nothing.

No, I’m not talking about Favre-gate 2009, but rather the Starcap trail with Kevin and Pat Williams, also affectionately known as the Williams’ wall on the Minnesota Vikings.

Thursday was the date that the trial for the players that had taken the banned diuretic Bumetanide, allegedly unbeknownst, resumed hearing. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson did not decide anything of substance during this hearing (besides most likely thinking to himself that this whole thing was ridiculous), so Vikings fans are still wringing their hands this off season wondering if their defense will have a large gaping hole up the middle … I mean, if they’ll lose their two starting Pro-Bowl defensive tackles.

Without a decision made, there’s still hope that the defense can enter the season fully intact. But if Judge Magnuson eventually decides against the Williams wall and upholds their four game suspension it may benefit Vikings fans to look at the roster now, especially after the intense free agency period and the draft, to see what their defensive front may look like.

In short, it’s not wholly promising. Defensive tackles re-signed this offseason include Jimmy Kennedy and Fred Evans, both are players with minimal experience before signing with the Vikings, and brief appearances after Pat Williams went down with an injury at the end of 2008 and into the playoffs.

These two, Kennedy and Evans, are probably the most likely candidates to fill in for Pat and Kevin, and that has to leave Viking fans feeling a bit nervous. In Pat’s small absence in 2008, the run defense performed with heart but struggled at times, giving up 135 yards to the Giants scrub team in week 17 and big plays to both Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter against the Eagles in the playoff game that sealed the loss. Think of what could happen if both Kevin and Pat were out? Rather of frightening, like watching Lady Ga Ga give a stage performance while pregnant.

The only other defensive tackle on the roster currently is late round pick in 2008, Letroy Guion from Florida State. Although he has potential, he mostly observed last year seeing action in only two games. His knock has always been that he has attitude problems as well, so playing tackle without a reliable and established veteran next to him for the first four games of 2009 may develop bad habits or even bad character (I sound like a Garfield cartoon).

The Vikings also have larger defensive ends Otis Grigsby, Jayme Mitchell and potentially Kenechi Udeze (God willing) on the roster, all who could move, and some who have moved, over to defensive tackle in certain situations if the need for added depth arose.

Numbers wise, it doesn’t look as if the Vikings will make any other roster moves to add a defensive tackle to the team if the Williams’ find themselves on a four game suspension. If anything, players such as Guion and Udeze may not even see the field this year, and my understanding is that although on suspension, the Williams’ would still count against the 53 man roster during the regular season, meaning that there simply wouldn’t be enough roster space to add anyone else in case of their absence.

The news isn’t all bad though. The first four games of the 2009 season don’t appear to be overwhelming on paper, although it’s difficult to predict how effective a team will truly be in May. The Vikings start on the road, facing a Cleveland Brown’s team that has a new coach, new system, and an old running back.

They then travel to Detroit to face an up and coming Lions team that may be hungry and have a decent running back, but may still be getting acclimated to a new system and each other offensively. The Vikings defense should still have their number this early in the season.

Week three sees the Vikings returning home for a game against San Francisco. While Frank Gore is a good running back, their offensive line is suspect and they may actually have a more potent passing attack than a running game. In addition, they should be adjusting to a new offensive coordinator and mediocre quarterback play (sounds like the Vikings!). Might be a good matchup, but nothing Kennedy, Evans and the rest of the defense can’t handle.

The real test will be week four against Green Bay. The Packers have Ryan Grant who is supremely overrated and an offensive line that is still young and inexperienced. Aaron Rodgers and the passing game is still their most effective weapon, but this game is another one that shouldn’t overwhelm the Viking defense.

When all is said and done, a favorable four game schedule to start the season should help to alleviate some remaining concerns that fans may have about the defense if the Williams’ are suspended. Even if they start the year out 2-2, although surely disappointing, it would not be an insurmountable obstacle when Pat and Kevin return.

So have faith, Vikings fans. Even if Judge Magnuson creates your worst case scenario, the Vikings should be in a better position to withstand the Williams’ wall loss than they were last season, with increased experiences and versatility at the defensive tackle position as well as a potentially softer schedule to begin the year.

And once the Wall returns, prepare for your regular dominant defense to appear, and watch the William twins play angry as they hopefully lead the team into the playoffs.

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