The Vikings begin training camp Wednesday. We're previewing camp with a look at each position group. Today: Defensive line.
- Running backs
- Offensive line
- Tight ends
- Defensive backs
Defensive ends: Danielle Hunter, Stephen Weatherly, Patrick Jones, D.J. Wonnum, Janarius Robinson, Jalyn Holmes, Hercules Mata'afa, Jordan Brailford, Kenny Willekes
Defensive tackles: Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, Armon Watts, James Lynch, Jaylen Twyman, Jordon Scott, Zeandae Johnson
In: Tomlinson (free agent), Richardson (free agent), Weatherly (free agent), Jones (third-round pick), Robinson (fourth-round pick), Twyman (sixth-round pick), Johnson (undrafted free agent), Scott (undrafted free agent)
Out: Ifeadi Odenigbo (signed with Giants), Jaleel Johnson (signed with Texans)
At the beginning of the offseason, the depth charts in the Vikings' meeting rooms reflected a sad truth: Save for Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce, neither of whom played a snap for the Vikings last season, a position group that had long been a strength under Mike Zimmer and Andre Patterson was practically devoid of bona fide NFL starters. The Vikings made the position a priority in free agency, signing Tomlinson from the Giants and bringing both Weatherly and Richardson back for second stints in Minnesota. Their hope is those players, coupled with the returns of Hunter and Pierce and possible contributions from recent draft picks, will put some bite back in a line that had little of it last year.
Right defensive end. Assuming Hunter stays on the left side, where he's played most of his career, the Vikings will have to figure out how they'll line up against opposing left tackles. Jones could get a chance to play a meaningful role after a strong offseason program, though Weatherly has the most experience and the Vikings believed he was ready to take a step forward before he left for the Panthers in free agency a year ago. Wonnum could also try to win the job after three sacks in 14 games as a rookie. In any case, a defense that could use some more pass-rushing help will need production here.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Pierce. The Vikings signed him to replace Linval Joseph a year ago, but his family's history with asthma led him to opt out of the 2020 season rather than risk complications if he contracted COVID-19. He could miss the first couple weeks of Vikings camp after straining his calf muscle this summer, according to a league source, so Pierce's on-field work could be somewhat limited in the lead-up to the season. In the meantime, that could mean Tomlinson back at nose tackle and Richardson playing next to him. Pierce will have plenty to show when he gets back on the field.
ONE BIG QUESTION
Will Hunter pick up where he left off? Two years ago, he finished a second straight season with 14 1⁄2 sacks and helped the Vikings upset the Saints in the first round of the playoffs by shifting inside to help pressure Drew Brees. Workout videos of Hunter this offseason suggest he remains an unmatched physical specimen, but he admitted in a June news conference he'd need time to get back in football shape. And while Hunter is back in Minnesota, he didn't get the lucrative contract extension his camp wanted; the Vikings effectively put down a good-faith deposit on the idea they'd revisit his deal after the season. That prospect, as well as his future with the Vikings, might now hinge on his ability to recreate the kind of production he had during the first four seasons of his career — and few players are more important to the team's fortunes this fall.