The return of Shamar Stephen in the middle of the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line could allow Mike Zimmer to alter his defense in 2019.
Stephen, who was a seventh-round draft pick in 2015, the same year that Anthony Barr was a first-round pick, spent last year in Seattle before returning to Minnesota with a free-agent contract this week.
“He went on vacation for a year, but we were able to get him back and he was another critical piece that we wanted to really hone in and focus in on once we kicked off this free agency,” general manager Rick Spielman said.
It won’t be much of a vacation for Stephen when the season rolls around. Although he returns to a familiar defense, he will no longer have another defensive tackle in front of him on the depth chart. Sharrif Floyd is no longer able to play, Tom Johnson remains a free agent, and Sheldon Richardson, who spent last year in Minnesota, signed with Cleveland in free agency. The Vikings certainly could draft a defensive tackle in the early rounds next month, but Stephen’s familiarity has him as the front-runner to be the three-technique next to nose tackle Linval Joseph, as well as having the ability to rotate for Joseph if necessary.
But Stephen’s return could spark an alteration to Mike Zimmer’s defense, too.
“One of the things I felt like all along this year that if going into next season we have maybe a little bit more size in the middle, that would help the linebackers and some of the secondary guys, help solidify some of the running game,” Zimmer said. “We’re talking about doing some different things defensively this year, and being able to have a guy with Shamar’s versatility along with Linval [Joseph] inside, I think it will help us change some of the packages that we run.”
He may be a key piece to the defensive line after Richardson’s departure, but Stephen prefers to do his work in the background, whether that’s playing nose tackle or three-technique.
“It’s not even an issue. I’m comfortable at three and nose,” he said. “I’ve been playing it my whole life so I feel comfortable there. I’ve got great coaches that can help me. Dre [Andre Patterson] is probably one of the best fundamental, technique-wise to teach me what I need to do, so I’m not worried about it at all.”
Patterson regularly receives praise from Vikings defensive linemen and other coaches as the best defensive line coach in the NFL, and Stephen is certainly looking forward to his mentoring once again.
He has seen what Patterson’s work has done for him and others on the defensive line.
“Really, it’s just his passion to make everyone better players each and every year. You have elite players every year and you see them grow even more and more,” Stephen said. “For instance, Danielle [Hunter] he’s become a great player. Before then, he was, what, a fourth-round draft pick and he’s become an elite player, top pass rusher. He has guys that are producing every year and he gets the best out of you every day. For me, that’s perfect for me and I feel comfortable around a guy like Coach Patterson.”
The Vikings addressed a roster need in free agency this week with the addition of right guard Josh Kline.
A veteran who has started 46 straight games, Kline has split the first six seasons of his career with Tennessee and New England. Kline’s play at right guard for the Titans over the past three years helped Tennessee rank in the top half of the league each season.
But now that Kline is in Minnesota, where does he fit into the Vikings offensive plans? Chad Graff of The Athletic recently wrote that Kline could slot in right away as a starter with his new team.
Kline’s addition provides a bit more clarity to what the Vikings’ starting offensive line could look like, though there’s still some uncertainty and likely more additions on the way.
Pat Elflein will likely remain at center with Kline at right guard. If the Vikings draft a guard in the first round, they’ll likely keep Riley Reiff at left tackle and Brian O’Neill at right tackle. If they draft a tackle in the first round, they could slide O’Neill to left tackle and Reiff to left guard, opening a spot for the new addition at right tackle.
Kline becomes the second player on the Vikings roster who has won a Super Bowl, joining Linval Joseph for that honor. Kline won Super Bowl XLIX with the New England Patriots after the 2014 season, but doesn’t look at himself as a vocal addition to the locker room.
“I prefer to lead by example and by actions,” Kline said. “I’m not someone who really speaks up unless I have to. I just want to be a team player and just help this team out any way I can. If that’s my actions showing the younger guys how I’m working and what I’m doing as a good teammate, that should help out. If I have to pull some younger guys aside and give them some perspective, then I’ll have to, but we’ll see what comes with that because I haven’t met any of the offensive linemen yet. It’s going to be a great room from what I hear and from what I saw on tape.”
An undrafted free agent out of Kent State, Kline has appeared in 79 career games in six seasons and has made 64 starts.
The 29-year-old said Thursday in a conference call with Twin Cities media members that he is familiar with Minnesota’s offensive scheme and is looking forward to exploring his new home.
The first proposal would add fouls for pass interference to the list of reviewable plays. The second would include fouls for pass interference but also would add fouls for roughing the passer and unnecessary hits against a defenseless receiver. Importantly, neither would allow review of plays in which no fouls were called, meaning they could not be used in the future to address the kind of controversial missed pass interference call that occurred late in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
Seifert also noted there are also “seven club proposals relating to replay” that will be looked at, along with a host of other proposed rule changes submitted by NFL teams.