With the 2011 NFL season fast approaching, one of the big areas of concern for the Minnesota Vikings is the defensive line. With Ray Edwards in Atlanta, Pat Williams not re-signed, and Kevin Williams likely facing a four game suspension to begin the season, the only returning starter on opening day will be All Pro defensive end Jared Allen. I spoke to Robison and Allen separately on Saturday in Mankato to get their feelings on how the defense is shaping up, and what their expectations are for 2011.
Q: There's going to be a lot of turnover on the defensive line, with three new faces starting on Opening Day. How do you feel that transition is going right now?
Brian Robison: I feel good about it. We've got some young guys that are working hard right now. Letroy's (Guion) doing very well, we've got Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans is back. We've got guys that can fill in and not necessarily replace Kevin Williams, but guys that can get in and get the job done and let us roll off a few early season wins, and when we get Kevin back we'll pick up where we left off."
Q: One guy that won't be back is Pat Williams. Talk about Remi Ayodele--how's he doing in terms of replacing Pat Williams?
Brian Robison: He's doing good. He got caught a little behind the eight ball with the CBA ratification and everything, but I think he's doing real well. He's picking things up quick, and he's asking a lot of questions to make sure he gets things right.
Q: Did the delay in the ratification of the CBA hurt the defensive line? Did that hurt the progress of the line at all?
Brian Robison: I think we're doing all right. You definitely want those guys out there from day one, but they were able to sit in meetings, see the defense, learn the defense, get a lot of mental reps, and then come out and physically be there. I don't think it really hurts us too much, because they were still here.
Q: You've had a pretty good camp so far. Could you give me your impression of Charlie Johnson, the newly signed tackle?
Jared Allen: Charlie's new to the system, and we've obviously got a new system. I played against Charlie when he was at New England; he's an athletic guy, and sometimes it can be tough coming in and learning a new system. But we have high expectations of everybody, and I think he'd going to be good.
Q: How do you feel about Leslie Frazier transitioning to permanent head coach? Has there been much of a transition to Frazier's style of calling a game as opposed to defensive coordinator Fred Pagac?
Jared Allen: No, no, no. They're similar in what they do, but I think Pagac is a little more aggressive in that respect. But Coach Frazier as a head coach is awesome. He really hs the trust and respect of the entire team and organization. You know, we work with a purpose and he's efficient with what we do. And I think what's really cool is that he lets (Coach Pagac) run the defense. There's not a lot of crossover, at least we don't see it. I had Pagac in Kansas City as well, he was the linebacker coach there, so I've known him for years. His style is a little more aggressive, but it's the same defense, and that's the cool thing. We're not learning anything new, we're just picking up where we left off.
Q: A lot of turnover on the defensive line. Come opening day, you'll be the only returning starter. If Kevin WIlliams gets suspended--
JA: Let's not talk about that (laughs)
Q: Do you see that as a problem heading into the season?
Jared Allen: No. We have a standard that we set here, and people have to play to that standard. If you can't play to that standard, we're going to find somebody else who can. Brian Robison's been here, he's picked it up and will play on an every down basis now. We're hoping that Kevin WIlliams isn't going to be suspended, but if he is, we've got Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, Remi (Ayodele) is coming on, so we don't expect a drop off. Those guys that would be starting have played a lot for us in the past, and Remi's going to pick it up and learn, and you've got to roll with the punches. That's what this league is about. You lose guys to injuries, you lose guys to stupid things, but we'll be all right.