Erasmus James is out for the season with a torn ACL. And once again, the Vikings’ have found a way to buzzkill what little joy they bring to their fans, this time through injury after injury to their defense. First Tank Williams, then their first round pick Chad Greenway in the first preseason game. No sooner do Vikings’ fans start to get over those losses, then Dovonte Edwards, he of the amazing interception off of Brett Farve last year, and the first good starting nickel back for the Vikings’ in a long time, broke his arm. And now, after turning in two solid performances, and showing flashes of the talent that made him a first round pick, Erasmus James has to have season ending knee surgery.
So the Vikings’ lose yet another player they were counting on to play an important role in their defense, both this year and in the future. Yes, the Vikings' lost last year’s first round pick to an injury that may sap his most valuable asset, speed, but what effect is it going to have on the defense this year? The defense isn’t going to collapse, that’s for sure. James was playing well, but he isn’t even close to the best defensive lineman on the team. And last year, Darren Scott played well at left end after James was hurt (And yes, I’m avoiding calling him injury prone yet.) The Vikings, thankfully, have depth on their defensive line. Kenechi Udeze will be fine shifting over to right end, and Scott will be fine at left end. What James’ injury does, however, is remove the depth that the Vikings had. If either Udeze or Scott is hurt now, the rookie from Purdue, Ray Edwards, will be seeing significant time. And one thing the Vikings’ cannot afford is to have a significant drop off in the play of their defensive line, considering how important it is in the Tampa-2 scheme.
The Tampa-2 relies on the line to get pressure on the quarterback, saving blitz’ for special occasions. The defensive line’s ability to pressure the quarterback is the key to the success of the Tampa-2. If the line can’t get pressure, the Vikings will have to blitz, which means they’ll open up a lot of holes in their coverage, especially considering the lack of depth in the secondary and the lack of quality linebackers (I don’t care how well Napoleon Harris played on Sunday—I’m not going to trust the linebackers for a long time). And so go the dominos—James is out, Udeze gets dinged, Edwards can’t get to the quarterback, freeing lineman to double team the Williams, forcing Tomlin to call blitzes, allowing receivers to get open enough for even Jon Kitna to hit them. Suddenly the Vikings' defense is back to the mediocrity of the past few years. And that is why James’ injury could be so such a huge blow to the Vikings’ defense and their season.
Edit: I just realized this morning that James' injury is yet another blow to the Vikings' ability to play guys with cool names. They've now lost Erasmus, Dovonte, and Tank. That's almost half of the guys with sweet names that get to play--the only ones that are left who will see the field are Mewelde, Ciatrick, Kenechi and Napoleon. Of course, the Vikings were smart about putting their roster together--Dontarrious, Tarvaris and Khreem are waiting in the wings should they be needed to keep the announcers on their toes