MANKATO, Minn. -- Relative to the drama of recent summers at Minnesota Vikings training camp, this one hardly registers on our scale. If the worst thing the Vikings face this season is a defensive end (or two) who doesn't want to come off the field, 2012 will qualify as their most peaceful in memory.
I can't get too worked up about an issue that began when new defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he doesn't want to have a defensive lineman who finishes the season with "1,000 reps under their belt." Coincidentally, All-Pro Jared Allen was the only defensive end in the NFL last season to exceed that total (1,004 snaps), and overall he missed only 61 plays all season.
Allen told reporters that he will get angry if he's approached on a plan for reduced snaps, but he also said: "I'm going to do what's asked of me." No matter how Allen reacts is, to me the much more important issue is whether the Vikings have a reserve player worthy of getting more snaps if Allen's are reduced.
Questionable depth might have been the biggest reason that Allen and Brian Robison both finished among the top 11 in playing time among NFL defensive ends last season. (Robison played 899 snaps, or 84.4 percent of the Vikings' total plays.) The third-best defensive end on the Vikings' roster is probably Everson Griffen, and he has spent training camp working almost exclusively at outside linebacker after reducing his weight to 258 pounds.
There is some optimism about first-year player D'Aundre Reed, a seventh-round draft pick last season who was inactive for all 16 games. But for the moment at least, the biggest obstacle in Williams' plan is a lack of decent alternatives.
There's nothing wrong with committing to the idea of using young players, but they still must earn their way onto the field.
It makes you wonder if the Vikings will really keep Griffen at the "Will" outside linebacker spot, where for the moment Erin Henderson is holding down the starting job. So when I spoke Thursday with coach Leslie Frazier, I wanted to know how permanent Griffen's assignment to linebacker is.
"We wanted to be able to make sure he could play the position," Frazier said. "He's such a good athlete. We have two very good defensive ends. To play him 10-15 snaps, to give those guys a break, I don't know. So let's take a look at him at linebacker. See if we can get him on the field more. But we also know that he can go back and put his hand in the dirt. He's done that before."
Now is the time, Frazier said, "to see if he can make that adjustment."
Last season, the Vikings defense played an average of 66 qualified snaps per game. You could make an argument that the best use of Griffen is to have him spell Allen for a handful of plays and give Robison a break for perhaps a few series. Allen and Robison could still be highly productive -- keep in mind that Detroit Lions end Cliff Avril had 11 sacks last season while playing 72 percent of his team's snaps -- and perhaps more energetic as games progressed.
Again, this issue is hardly a controversy. In fact, it's more of a riddle. It makes perfect sense to use more than two defensive ends over the course of a 16-game season. The Vikings should do it. But can they?