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From MinnCentric

Filling in For Linval Joseph

It’s often been said that the middle linebacker is the most important defensive position on the field. We’ve all heard the stories about how a solid middle linebacker can be “the quarterback of the defense.” But different defensive schemes place different levels of importance on different positions. While the middle linebacker position in Mike Zimmer’s defense is very important, it may not be the most important. That designation may very well be handed to the nose tackle.

So far in camp, Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner have referred to the nose tackle as “critical” and an “essential” part of this defense’s success. On multiple occasions now, Coach Zimmer has reflected back on prior nose tackles and the importance of how they impacted his defensive schemes.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
“In Cincinnati, I was very fortunate to have Domata Peko, who in my opinion is one of the best nose tackles in the league,” Zimmer said. “He helps the middle linebacker not get blocked very much. The nose tackles do a lot of dirty work that people do not see, and helps the linebackers have an opportunity to stay healthy and make tackles.”

This explains why the coaches were so excited when the Vikings signed veteran nose tackle Linval Joseph during the offseason.
“He looks how a nose tackle is supposed to look,” Zimmer said of Joseph after meeting him. “He weighs 317 pounds and is benching 500 pounds…I have high expectations of him.”

With such high praise from the very get go, you can understand why the team was so shaken up when they received word early Saturday morning that Joseph had been shot in the leg after an altercation broke out at a night club in Minneapolis.

By all accounts, the wound is only minor and the team expects Linval to be back on the field for week one, but given the importance place on the position within Zimmer’s scheme, it might be time to assess the depth at the position. You know, just in case.

Get To Know The Candidates…
According to defensive coordinator George Edwards, the Viking will be working three players in at the nose tackle position while Linval is sidelined. So far it’s been Fred Evans, Shamar Stephen and Chase Baker filling the role.

Fred Evans
Currently listed as the second-string nose tackle, Fred has been a member of the Minnesota Vikings for the past seven seasons. Better known for his dance moves off the field, Evans has been more than adequate when his number is called. Standing at 6’4” tall and 305lbs, Fred is more of a lean build nose tackle who relies on quickness over strength. He’s not the best fit for a Mike Zimmer system, but if his number is called he’ll be more than prepared.

Shamar Stephen (rookie)
Stephen may have the most potential amongst the viable fill-ins, but he’s also the most raw player. 6’5” tall and 310lbs, he’s a big man with good quickness off the snap. He flashed a few times in Friday’s preseason game and has been getting some attention at Training Camp. Despite his natural ability and future potential, Stephen is still a rookie buried on the depth chart and is probably still a little ways away from seeing on the field action with the starters.

Chase Baker
Third year player Chase Baker has been with the Viking serving various roles over the past two years. After spending 2012 on the Practice Squad, Baker appeared in 5 games last season contributing mainly to special teams but filling in for injuries as well. Chase is a bit undersized (6’2”, 300lbs) but makes up for his lack of size with toughness. He’s got a “chip-on-my-shoulder” kind of attitude and will not let anybody out-tough him. With the addition of Stephen this off season, this may be Baker’s final shot to make the team with the Vikings.

With those options underwhelming the vast majority let’s reiterate, according to team trainers and the coaches, Linval Joseph should be ready to go by the time that the regular season rolls around. Looking at the group filling in behind him, the Vikings will take a big step backwards if the gunshot injury persists and he is forced to miss regular season action.

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This is, I believe, his 3rd training camp with the Vikings and I've always like Chase Baker from the limited snaps we've seen him in regular season games and during the pre-season. So he'd get my vote. I'm sure Evans will get some play though, as he's seemingly been on roster forever and always seems to get much mores playing time than I'd like to see for him.

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