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Vikings’ Run Defense Still Under Construction

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(credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — Preseason games can be difficult to analyze and often misleading, but no NFL team feels good about allowing 260 yards rushing in one night.

That’s what happened to the Minnesota Vikings in San Francisco last Friday while losing to the 49ers, so there was no secret about what the defensive coaches harped on in their weekend review with the players.

For a group that will have new starters this season at nose tackle, middle linebacker and strong safety — the guts of any good run defense — this wasn’t exactly an encouraging performance even though veterans Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield sat out. But the Vikings weren’t ready to sound any alarms.

“You obviously don’t want to pick up big chunks of yardage. You don’t want to give up big runs,” outside linebacker Chad Greenway said. “The thing about it is at this point it’s nothing more than a practice for us. It’s just the way it is. It’s not indicative of how we’re going to be Sept. 9. It’s a good place to start, and we’ll improve. It’s all breakdowns that are very fixable.”

Like, mostly, a player straying from his assigned gap or area and being out of position when the ball carrier came through.

“I saw a few misfits, a few bad angles to the football, but I also saw some good things,” new defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “I saw guys running to the ball with great effort, guys taking care of their responsibilities, just not consistently enough. Of course when you’re in the NFL and you don’t take care of your assignments, that’s the type of day you can have against a good team.”

After ranking first in the league in stopping the run in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and second in 2009, averaging fewer than 75 yards allowed per game on the ground during that four-year span, the Vikings (29th in the AP Pro32 rankings) have slipped.

They were still 10th in the NFL in 2010 and 11th in 2011, but they’ve been giving up more than 100 yards per game.

Letroy Guion, who injured the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in San Francisco and will miss about a week of practice time, is the new starter at nose tackle after Remi Ayodele was a nonfactor trying to replace Pat Williams there last year.

Jasper Brinkley has taken over at middle linebacker for E.J. Henderson, who was unsigned as a free agent. And rookie Harrison Smith moved onto the first team at strong safety in Monday’s practice, ahead of Jamarca Sanford.

Guion, listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, must prove he’s stout and sturdy enough to stuff the holes in the middle. Brinkley has a lot of rust to shed after missing last season following surgery on one of his hips. Smith was the 29th overall pick in the draft, out of Notre Dame, but he’s, well, still a rookie.

“They are coming along. Just need more reps,” Williams said, reflecting on their performance against the 49ers: “I felt encouraged about what we have.”

Obviously stinging a bit from their showing in the game and the feedback from the coaches afterward, the starting defense was especially spirited in the short-yardage situations against the first team offense on Monday.

“Someone puts up 260 yards rushing, you’ve got to come out to practice with a little bit of gusto,” Allen said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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