MANKATO, Minn. One of Alan Williams' plans since taking over as the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator has been to implement a rotation along the defensive line, keeping the group fresh throughout a long season and ready to attack within games.
Williams has referenced the sports culture in Minnesota, likening the rotation to a hockey lineup with the ability to change players on the fly.
"Keep them fresh, keep them running so they can make plays," Williams said. "When we're at the end of the ballgame and the game is on the line, we have to close it out. It's just that at the end, we want the guys fresh and we want to close it out. That is game-specific and season-specific, so at the end of the year we don't have a guy that has 1,000 reps under his belt. We want guys to be fresh so that we when playoffs come down the line, we're ready to hunt."
One person who still wants his 1,000 reps is Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, and he said Wednesday he hasn't heard from coaches about having his snaps limited.
"They're probably going to drop that on me toward the beginning of the season, and I'll get really pissed at them," Allen joked, before getting more serious. "I'm willing to do anything to win, but I don't like coming off the field. I work so hard in the offseason to get in the best shape I can. My theory's always been, 'You want to rest me, rest me during the week because I get paid to play on Sundays.' That's when I'm out there to make plays. I feel like if I'm on the field, I can make a play to help us win."
On a defense that allowed the second-most points and 12th-most yards in the league last season, Allen was the biggest playmaker. He rarely left the field and finished with 22 sacks, falling a half-sack short of the NFL single-season record. Allen ended up second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
The defensive line was the strength of an underwhelming defense. On the opposite side of Allen, end Brian Robison had eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Stalwart tackle Kevin Williams was suspended for two games and started slow after he was activated, but he finished the season with a flurry. The weak spot was beside Williams, where Remi Ayodele, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans rotated.
Ayodele was released after one lackluster season with the team, and Guion and Evans are competing for the starting spot this year. Minnesota believes it has good depth along the line and wants to get more out of each of the players on it.
"We need eight guys to come in and play for us and play well," Williams said. "We'll have guys that are rotating, and we expect whatever that rotation is for guys to play winning football."
Led by Allen, the Vikings tied for the league-lead with 50 sacks. He hopes he can approach Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5 sacks again and knows it will be harder to do if he's not on the field as much.
Allen has put in his usual offseason training in his offseason home of Arizona, a regimen that has turned him into one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. He wants to win and believes being on the field as much as possible is one way to win more games. If coaches do come to him for a talk about rotation, he said he'd share his feelings and they would have a "diplomatic conversation" if they tried to limit his snaps too much.
"As the game is going, we're trying to win a football game, I think you put your best players on the field to try and win football games," Allen said. "If I ever feel the snaps are too much, I'll retire. Until then, I'm going to try and play until the wheels fall off. That's my mentality come Sunday. Don't take me off the field because I feel like I prepared in the offseason and training camp and the regular work week to play every snap on Sunday."
Meanwhile, the Vikings say they want to use a rotation, even if they haven't yet told Allen their exact plans. By the reaction of the parties involved, Allen's "diplomatic conversation" may be coming.
"Being able to rotate those guys and keep them fresh, in particular Jared and Brian Robison, that's a big deal," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Kevin, now he's getting a little bit older, we need to be able to rotate him, not have him to play 80 to 90 percent of the downs. Part of that is what kind of depth do you have, and we think that we have good depth. So why not have a rotation system going so we can have them fresh in the fourth quarter?"
Carlson out a "week or two": Tight end John Carlson had an MRI on his injured knee confirming the original diagnosis of a sprained medial collateral ligament. Frazier called it a Grade-2 sprain.
"It's going to be maybe a week or two before we actually get him back out there," Frazier said. "Hopefully in the next week or two. Two weeks at the most, we'll have him back."
Carlson was hurt during Tuesday's afternoon practice when a player rolled up on the back of his leg while he was engaged with a block. Carlson was at practice Wednesday with his knee heavily bandaged.
Carlson, signed to a five-year contract in the offseason, is expected to team with second-year pro Kyle Rudolph at tight end. Now, he will miss some valuable practice time with quarterback Christian Ponder.
"The fact that it's a new offense for him; the terminology, being not able just to hear it in meetings but to actually go out there and actually practice his movements," Frazier said. "You miss that part of it. But he's a pro. He'll pay attention, and when he comes back he'll be ready to go. But you'd like to have his presence in the huddle and in the drills with the young tight ends."
In his absence, young backups Rhett Ellison, Mickey Shuler and Allen Reisner will get more snaps.
"It's not a bad thing that those guys are going to get increased reps," Frazier said.
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