In Mike Zimmer’s first season in Minnesota, the Vikings’ front four became formidable once again.
Led by a first-time starter in right defensive end Everson Griffen, the Vikings — who had three new starters along their defensive line — recorded 41 sacks. And the pressure they generated on enemy quarterbacks was one of the primary reasons the Vikings were able to climb all the way to seventh in pass defense in 2014.
But it wasn’t all pretty. The Vikings got gouged for 121.4 rushing yards per game, which was worst in the division and ranked 25th in the NFL. That’s not all on the defensive line, but run defense does start up front.
The Vikings return all but one member of the 2014 rotation after re-signing reserve defensive tackle Tom Johnson — who surprised with 6.5 sacks — and letting backup end Corey Wootton walk. That continuity should be a good thing, and the group should be better off now that players are more accustomed to Zimmer’s techniques.
There is still plenty of room for improvement, though, especially against the run. So you can count on Zimmer continuing to stockpile his style of defensive linemen as he tries to develop a deep, talented rotation similar to what he had during his time with the Bengals.
Projected starters: Griffen and Brian Robison on the ends with defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph between them.
Don’t forget about: The Vikings drafted Scott Crichton last spring with one of their two third-round picks with the hope that he would rotate with Robison and maybe one day replace him. In his rookie year, though, Crichton was often inactive and played only 16 defensive snaps, recording two tackles and zero sacks. His lack of activity is no doubt a concern, but it would be foolish to write off a player after one season.
Level of need: Moderate. Most of the group will be back, but that doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t and won’t look to upgrade, especially at defensive end. They could use another speed rusher to spell Griffen, and Robison isn’t getting any younger over on the left side.
Five prospects to remember: Florida DE Dante Fowler, Nebraska DE Randy Gregory, Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison, Mississippi State DE Preston Smith, Norfolk State DE Lynden Trail.
Our best guess: With more pressing needs, the Vikings will probably pass on defensive linemen in the early rounds, though that could change in the unlikely event that a top pass-rushing prospect such as Fowler or Gregory falls into their laps at No. 11. Instead, look for them in the middle rounds to snag a defensive end prospect that Zimmer thinks he can develop into a starter and maybe a defensive tackle sometime during the draft, too.
If Minnesota is the State of Hockey, Nevada is … well, it is not the State of Hockey. It is the state of legalized gambling, however, and it is a state in which the NHL is considering adding a team.
Is that a good idea?
Five Thirty Eight doesn’t seem to think so. Maybe Nate Silver is right, but his logic doesn’t quite seem right, either:
According to my previous research, the six current NHL markets with the fewest number of hockey fans are Nashville, Miami, Raleigh, Columbus, Phoenix and Tampa. Those franchises lost a collective $51 million in 2013-14, according to Forbes. Now there’s momentum to place an NHL expansion team in Las Vegas, another idea that makes little sense. Our 2013 analysis estimated that there are just 91,000 NHL fans in metro Las Vegas. That’s tiny even by comparison to the six smallest NHL markets that I mentioned before, which have between 146,000 (Nashville) and 279,000 (Tampa) hockey fans. And it’s well below Seattle’s 241,000 or Quebec City’s 530,000 fans.
Silver also argues against an NHL team in Vegas because the city hasn’t supported minor league teams well in the past, while concluding that an NBA team makes far more sense.
On that last part, I agree. But the minor league reasoning seems far-fetched. And to a larger degree, so does the argument about a small base of NHL fans. Any team based in Vegas in any major league is going to be more about capturing the tourism crowd than the locals.
Yes, the NBA is a better fit than the NHL — and probably the ideal draw in Vegas. But even without a full house night after night in an NHL arena in Vegas, the league exposure in Sin City would be worth it. I’d put a team there before I’d put one in, say, Kansas City.
(Photo of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock in Vegas for 2012 league awards was a wonderful bit of serendipity).
Former Vikings offensive lineman Brent Boyd, a longtime leading spokesman against the NFL’s handling of disability claims and retirees with concussion-related symptoms, said he’s not happy with the news today that U.S. District Judge Anita Brody gave final approval to a class-action settlement of NFL concussion claims in Philadelphia.
“I’m extremely disappointed in Judge Brody that she didn’t protect NFL retirees,” said Boyd, who has struggled with concussion-related symptoms since played for the Vikings from 1980-86. “I’m disappointed that this is called a concussion settlement, which is a misnomer because most of these concussion symptoms have been carved out of this and guys aren’t being given any help for these symptoms.
“I am disappointed because it’s not a concussion settlement. It’s a Lou Gehrig’s settlement. A Parkinson’s settlement. The guys with all the symptoms of CTE, their families aren’t going to get squat.”
Boyd’s biggest complaint with the settlement is that future diagnoses of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease, isn’t part of the settlement.
“The word that keeps going through my mind is sinister,” Boyd said. “This whole thing is sinister. Does anybody else think it’s sinister that CTE ceases to exist about an hour ago when this settlement was announced? Because from now on, from this point forward, there is no reward for CTE. There is no recognition of CTE and its symptoms. You had to die between, I think, 2006 and when this settlement was announced. And you had to die because they can’t diagnose it until you die.”
Boyd said he’ll huddle with his lawyers to get more details on the next steps in the process.
“As far as I know, this is it,” he said. “That’s something I need to speak to my attorneys about. Leading up to this, I was told that you had to opt out. If you opted out, you would sue again. Your chances of winning were razor thin and it would take years and a whole lot of money to go through that. Most of us don’t have either the time or the money to go through that.”
The plantiffs co-lead counsel’s claimed today that the settlement enjoyed “overwhelming” support of retired NFL players because 99 percent of them didn’t opt out of the settlement when given the chance. Boyd said that’s definitely not the case.
“They’re making it sound like we were in favor of the settlement by not opting out,” he said. “That we approved of the terms of the settlement, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It was very perilous to opt out. Some of us aren’t going to live long enough to fight the NFL. And we don’t have the money to fight the NFL.
“They have skyscrapers filled with attorneys and all the time in the world. It all comes back to a phrase I coined in Congress years ago: ‘Delay, deny and hope we die.’ That’s the NFL’s unofficial strategy for dealing with guys who built this league.”