All About the Ends

Ray Edwards (Doug Pensinger/Getty)

The Minnesota Vikings' defensive ends had a number of intriguing side stories in Sunday's 42-10 win over the Lions. A former starter made his return to the starting lineup, a seldom-used backup recorded his first sack and another starter was getting an earful about his speed – or lack thereof – on an interception return.

No position on the Vikings defense was in flux as much as the Vikings saw Sunday at defensive end.

Up until Sunday's Detroit matchup, second-year pro Ray Edwards had been starting at right defensive end, with a combination of players – ranging from Erasmus James, Brian Robison and Jayme Mitchell – backing him up. That changed Sunday, when James surpassed Edwards on the depth chart.

Edwards was told the move was made because coaches felt like James is close to 100 percent recovered after having two surgeries on his knee in the past 14 months and that players shouldn't lose their starting spot because of injuries.

"Basically, Raz got hurt last year and he's been rehabbing trying to get back and I guess they feel that he's back to 100 percent and they came to me and told me no guy should lose his job to injury. I mean, hey, that's coach's decision that no guy should lose his job to injury, so he was starting," Edwards said Monday.

Edwards said he wasn't sure if the move was permanent or if he would have the opportunity to unseat James in the near future.

"We'll see. I'll just go out there and do what I do," Edwards said. "A team is only as good as its backups, so right now I'm a backup and I'm going to do what I do and play my game."

The Vikings produced three sacks of Lions quarterback Jon Kitna, but only one of those came from the defensive end position – from the seldom-used Mitchell, who recorded his first sack of the season.

"It felt great, man, to get my first sack this season, which should have been my third or fourth," Mitchell said. "A couple of quarterbacks got it out before I could get them to the ground. It felt good to get that sack and get the ‘W.'"

Mitchell has been active for six games and inactive for six. Meanwhile, Robison leads the Vikings with 4.5 sacks, and starting left end Kenechi Udeze and Edwards have four each. James, who has played in the last five games after being active in only one of the first seven contests while he continued his comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, got his first sack on Nov. 18 against Daunte Culpepper and the Oakland Raiders.

The Vikings had all five of their defensive ends active on Sunday because defensive tackle Fred Evans started serving a two-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy and the Vikings correctly anticipated the Lions to throw the ball more often, putting a greater emphasis on speedier defensive linemen to rush the quarterback.

Detroit ran only 46 offensive plays (compared to the Vikings' 66), which left all of the defensive linemen a bit short on opportunities. Edwards said he didn't know how often he was in the game, but Mitchell said he only got in on about five plays on defense.

"I just work my butt off and hopefully they'll continue to put me up and let me make an impact for the team and help the team," Mitchell said. "I love the game. I love to be out there and play, but I've got to wait my turn. When it's my opportunity to come, I've got to play when I'm needed."

TOO TIRED TO RETURN

The defenders might not have gotten too many plays, but 39 of Detroit's 46 offensive snaps were intended passing plays. The Vikings registered three sacks on those attempts, but Edwards nearly provided a fourth sack that produced much more comedy without the sack.

Rushing from the right end, Edwards reached from behind Kitna and grabbed his shoulder pads as the quarterback let go of the ball. Edwards wasn't sure if he hit the ball in the process, but it floated up into the air and Udeze made the interception.

"Kevin got a good push up the field and I came underneath him. Like I said, I usually don't have that kind of luck. I came around and the ball was coming right by me. I reached out and got it," Udeze explained in the locker room after the game.

But what followed that explanation was an exchange of good-natured ribbing from defensive tackle Pat Williams, who was giving Udeze a hard time about his slow-motion 37-yard return before being touched and stumbling to the ground.

"When you're pass rushing, people don't realize you go all out. I had nothing left. I tried to get out of first gear," Udeze said.

After a comment from Williams, Udeze was asked why Williams wasn't lead blocking for him.

"E.J. (Henderson) did a great job on a block and that's the last thing I remember," Udeze responded.

But Williams was having none of it.

"The ref even passed you," the mammoth nose tackle responded.

"I couldn't believe how tired I was," Udeze said.

Asked if he had people on top of him, Udeze said, "It felt like it," to which Williams responded, "He had a whole piano on his back."

Levity comes easier in winning times.

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