Vikings' defensive depth being tested

Harrison Smith (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)

The Vikings depth is being tested on defense with injuries to three key players. That's bad news for a defense that was already struggling.

With all of the buzz surrounding the Vikings pending decisions at quarterback, what might be more important is what is going on with the Vikings defense.

On Monday, it was learned that linebacker Desmond Bishop will miss the remainder of the 2013 season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament. Bishop had been the presumed starter at linebacker since he came to the Vikings after being released by the Packers. That didn't happen. He had been a backup through the first month of the season and, coming out of the bye week, was getting his first start. As it turned out, it may be his last start as a Viking.

Given the general lack of depth at linebacker, that news could be bad enough on its own. But it wasn't the only bad news on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Harrison Smith, arguably the Vikings' most consistent defensive player, suffered a foot injury that had him on the ground for several minutes before being helped off the field Sunday. In a secondary that has been routinely lit up, Smith was one of the few bright spots. With his availability in question for Monday night, the Vikings have yet another hole to fill.

If that wasn't bad enough, the Vikings may be without rookie Xavier Rhodes, who was sidelined with an ankle injury. Rhodes left Sunday's game in the second quarter after injuring the ankle while in coverage in the second quarter of Sunday's game. He returned to the game in the second half, but aggravated the injury and had to come back out in the fourth quarter. His status for Monday's game is also in question, although he said he would be ready to play.

At a time when almost all of the conversation surrounding the Vikings is centered on the quarterback quandary facing the team, the bigger issue may well be depth on the defensive side. With everyone healthy, the Vikings are allowing more than 30 points a game almost every game and getting routinely gashed by opposing quarterbacks. When injuries hit, the potential to make a bad situation worse is now in play.

Bishop is gone for the season. Their best secondary player is hobbled. The best young cornerback is limping. When Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford were injured, the Steelers were able to light up the Vikings defense through the air. With Smith and Rhodes question marks heading into the week of practice, what was a difficult situation defensively has become a bigger concern … a much bigger concern.

All eyes will be on Winter Park Wednesday when the Vikings return to practice, with the gaze being thrown to who will be taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback. But as the Vikings attempt to salvage their 2013 season and keep their playoff hopes alive as the only team in the NFC North with a losing record, the bigger question may be who will be available on the defensive side of the ball? We know Bishop won't be there. We aren't sure if Smith or Rhodes will be available. That may end up being the bigger story in terms of the Vikings chances of winning or losing than who will be lining up behind center.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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