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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Bust to boom: Initial free agency duo paying dividends for Vikings’ improved D

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The Vikings’ front office has emphasized building through the draft and signing their own to contract extensions, but their quick turnaround in two years under head coach Mike Zimmer needed a jumpstart.

Just weeks into Zimmer’s tenure, before the Vikings drafted Anthony Barr or Teddy Bridgewater, they started turning over the roster with five defenders-for-hire, and three have become critical contributors to one of the league’s best defenses this season.

For NFL free agency, three of five isn’t a bad batting average.

Nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn were the two multi-year deals in the bunch, and both have met, and maybe even succeeded, expectations in their second seasons with the Vikings after initial rocky transitions. While corner Derek Cox and end Corey Wootton didn’t work out, Tom Johnson, who initially inked a one-year, veteran minimum deal, has resurrected his career as the fifth man, coming off the bench in their heavy defensive line rotation.

Last month, Joseph became the Vikings’ first defensive tackle since Kevin Williams to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Week. In Sunday’s win at Atlanta, Munnerlyn grabbed one of the Vikings’ two interceptions off Matt Ryan.

“A lot of guys doubted [Joseph] last year,” Munnerlyn said. “Talking about, ‘Oh, man, me and him was the worst free agency signings of last year’ and things like that. But he’s definitely turned his game around, and he’s balling.”

Joseph, the 329-pound wall over center, has drawn effusive praise from Zimmer for his play this season, a year after a freak accident saw a stray bullet hit his calf at a downtown Minneapolis club, which sidelined him for much of his first training camp in Minnesota.

In the second season of a five-year, $31.25 million deal, he’s been a do-it-all run stuffer capable of playing multiple spots, and has the athleticism to get after the quarterback. Joseph, 27, leads all at his position with 54 combined tackles, and has started flourishing at a position the coaching staff pinpointed when taking over in Minnesota.

“It was important in this defense, nose tackle,” Zimmer said. “Even though he doesn’t get a lot of stats and things, we get a guy in there that can help protect the linebackers and do a lot of the dirty work.”

Munnerlyn, 27, took a demotion from last year in stride, sliding into a slot-only role that cuts his overall snap count, but seemingly increases his effectiveness as coaches say he’s bought in to the scheme and become the piece they envisioned when inking him to a three-year deal in March 2014.

They’ve both been instrumental for a Vikings defense allowing just 17.6 points per game, the second-fewest in the league. Joseph and Munnerlyn are among the best at their positions, according to Pro Football Focus, an analytics and film site that ranks Joseph the No. 4 defensive tackle in the league and Munnerlyn at No. 22 among all corners.

Coming to Minnesota with a play-making reputation, Munnerlyn has yet to score a touchdown on any of his three interceptions with the Vikings, as he did on five of his seven picks in his time with the Carolina Panthers.

At 8-3 and in control of the NFC North, these Vikings defenders have good problems.

“I think I’m in a slump,” Munnerlyn said. “I was joking with the guys, I had negative [return] yards [Sunday], I’m in a slump. This has to change soon. Guys be like, ‘Maybe it’s because you’re getting a little older.’ No.

“This has to change soon, so I definitely have to do something with the ball.”

The post Bust to boom: Initial free agency duo paying dividends for Vikings’ improved D appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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