Vikings

Five Offseason Questions Surrounding the Minnesota Vikings Defense

Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris (41) intercepts a pass interned for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) as Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes (26) backs up the play during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings appear closer to actually being able to show up at the team facility and get quality work in as they prepare for the 2020 season. The team has added a lot of new players to the defense, with the majority of those coming via the draft. They need to figure out who will start at certain positions and how exactly the depth charts will shake out.

Here are five questions on defense that will be answered this preseason.

Will the Vikings extend Anthony harris?

The Vikings are dealing with one extension headache already, as Dalvin Cook has made his intentions clear to hold out until he gets a better deal. They could have another one on their hands if Anthony Harris decides to follow suit and stay away until he’s offered a long-term contract. Harris has definitely earned an extension with the Vikings. He has gone from being an undrafted free agent to a practice squad member, to a part-time player, to a very good starter. He led the team with six interceptions a season ago and excels in coverage, showing the ability to stick to his man like they are joined at the hip.

It isn’t just his excellent play that should entice the Vikings to extend Harris. They are extremely thin at the position with only rookies on the roster as backups. Sure, it is possible that Josh Metellus or Brian Cole can progress over the season and show enough to become a starter down the road, but that is unlikely. They need to keep Harris around so they don’t have to go out and spend on a veteran next year or use a high draft pick at the position.

The Vikings also should extend Harris as they need to realize life without Harrison Smith is a reality they’ll need to be face in a couple of seasons. Smith is 31 years old and probably has two to three quality seasons left in his body. The Vikings would be wise to sign Harris for a long-term deal that will see him become the veteran leader of the Vikings secondary once Smith retires.

The Vikings did slap Harris with the franchise tag and all indications appear that he’ll be in camp this year. There’s a chance a deal gets worked out with him prior to the start of the season, but the issues surrounding Cook cloud the likelihood of that occurring.

WILL The Young Cornerback Group struggle this season?

The Vikings are going with a young and inexperienced group of cornerbacks this season. They are lead by veterans who don’t have a lot of starts between them in Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. The other “experienced” player on the depth chart is Kris Boyd, who has only played sparingly for one season.

The team did draft some exciting rookies in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler but would be foolish to expect them to make much of an impact early in the season. In a normal year, it often takes young cornerbacks about a season to acclimate to the NFL. It seems to take corners even longer to pick up Mike Zimmer’s system, and with mini-camps and OTAs already being canceled due to COVID-19, these young players have lost valuable reps.

The Vikings have a playoff-caliber team, but this is one area that could hold them back in 2020. These young players will go through a trial by fire this season. While the team has to be excited about the potential of this group, they need to be prepared for the growing pains they’ll go through, especially early in the season. How quickly this group jells this preseason will go a long way in determining if this will be a major area of concern this season for the Vikings.

can troy dye push for a starting job?

The Vikings surprisingly used a fourth-round choice on a position that they appeared to be set at when they took Oregon’s Troy Dye. Dye is a good-sized backer with great speed. He’s a high energy player who can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. At 6’3″ and 231 pounds he’s got the size to cover ends who come his way. Dye has tons of potential and was truly the best player on the board when the Vikings took him.

The question is, can he push Eric Wilson for a starting job this season? Wilson himself is coming off a breakout season. He was thrust into a starting role when Ben Gedeon was lost due to concussions. Wilson started six games and saw action in all 16. He had 62 tackles and showed the ability to make big plays with six tackles for a loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery. He brings much more to the table than Gedeon and looks to really be coming into his own.

Wilson is a huge favorite to start. The only real issue that could keep this closer than many figure is the fact that Wilson is probably in his final season with the Vikings. They used a second-round tender on him this year, and if he plays up to the potential he showed a season ago, he’ll cost too much for the Vikings to keep going forward. They clearly had a plan for the future when they drafted Dye. He’ll be Wilson’s replacement, and they may want him to get his feet wet this season, getting him ready to be a starter in 2021 and beyond. They won’t do this at the detriment of the team, but if the season starts to go south, it’s possible Dye could see some starts.

The preseason will give us a better idea of how close Dye truly is to contributing early in his career. If he appears close, he could definitely cut into Wilson’s playing time this season.

will Shamar Stephen make the team?

The Vikings have some exciting young defensive tackles on the depth chart. They also went out and signed Michael “The Juggernaut” Pierce to be their new primary run stuffer. Last year, the team brought back Shamar Stephen to pair with Linval Joseph to strengthen their run defense. Stephen had a down season where he mustered just 21 tackles, and the team’s run defense finished right about in the middle of the league. While Stephen wasn’t signed to a huge deal when he was brought back, he definitely didn’t live up to the $3.6 million he’s due this year. He’s also due to make a similar amount in 2021, and with the young talent on the Vikings roster, they could look to cut ties with the veteran at the end of this preseason.

This could be a position that ends up being a fun battle to watch in camp. The Vikings have a couple of hybrid type of players in Armon Watts and Jaleel Johnson. These two can both anchor against the run and provide interior pressure. Johnson is in a contract year and could find extra motivation as he looks to get paid in the offseason. The Vikings also drafted James Lynch, who can create interior pressure and be used on passing downs. If Watts and Johnson show enough in camp, along with Lynch basically being a lock to make the squad, the Vikings could find Stephen expendable. While the loss of mini-camps and OTAs favors the experienced Stephen, he’ll need to have a great camp and preseason to stay on the team.

will the Depth at safety and defensive end be a problem?

The Vikings are taking a huge gamble when it comes to their depth at a couple of positions on their defense. The most glaring one could be at safety. The Vikings have one of the best starting duos in the league in Harris and Smith. Those two complement each other extremely well and are a huge strength on the back end of the Vikings’ defense. The depth behind those two is scary thin. All the Vikings have are a couple of rookies. These aren’t just rookies, but rookies who were taken late in the draft or not at all.

Harrison Hand is a cornerback the Vikings drafted in the fifth round, who they could convert to safety. They also have Metellus, Cole and Myles Dorn, who wasn’t even drafted. If any of these players see an extended amount of playing time, the Vikings’ secondary, which is already sporting a group of young cornerbacks, could be in major trouble.

The Vikings are also thin at defensive end. Behind Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo are a couple of rookies in D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes, as well as a couple of uninspiring veterans in Eddie Yarbrough and Anthony Zettel. If an injury occurs to a starter, the Vikings’ pass rush will take a catastrophic hit. How these young safeties and defensive ends perform in the preseason will give the team an idea of how much of an issue this truly is. If Hand or Metellus can impress in camp and the preseason, the Vikings and their fans may not feel so concerned about one seeing snaps when the games start to count. The same can be said for defensive end if Zettel, Yarbrough, Wonnum or Willekes can show some promise this preseason.

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Jan 5, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris (41) intercepts a pass interned for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn (19) as Minnesota cornerback Trae Waynes (26) backs up the play during the second quarter of a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports

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