The Vikings could reportedly be without star nose tackle Michael Pierce for several games after he aggravated an elbow injury during the loss to the Browns last Sunday. Pierce "could be out a while," according to the Star Tribune's Ben Goessling.
Pierce initially got injured in practice last week and was listed as questionable for the game against Cleveland. He wound up playing and was effective early, but something happened and he wound up sitting out the entire second half after playing just 21 snaps.
This would be a big loss for the Vikings. Pierce had been one of their best defensive players through the first three weeks of the season, commanding double-teams and using his combination of size and athleticism to wreak havoc on the interior. The former Raven sacked Joe Burrow twice in Week 1, played well in Arizona, and then recorded three pressures on Russell Wilson in the Vikings' home opener against Seattle.
Assuming Pierce misses at least the next two games before the bye, the Vikings' defensive tackle depth will be tested.
However, they're at least in a better position to adjust to life without Pierce than some teams would be. The Vikings already have an excellent nose tackle on the roster in Dalvin Tomlinson, who had slid over to three-technique this year but will go back to nose in Pierce's absence. Stepping into Tomlinson's starting role at three-tech will be Sheldon Richardson, who has been a solid rotational player for the Vikings this year but had previously been a starter for his whole career.
The depth after those two is where it gets dicey. Armon Watts will continue playing a big role like he did against the Browns after Pierce got hurt. Watts has been up and down in his three-year career and notably has struggled against the run at times. 2020 fourth-round pick James Lynch should make his season debut this week after being a healthy scratch in each of the first four games.
Pierce's injury being significant explains why the Vikings signed T.J. Smith to their practice squad on Tuesday. Smith is a 6'3", 300-pound defensive tackle who played with Watts at Arkansas when both were being coached by current Vikings assistant Imarjaye Albury. He has excellent athleticism for the position but has struggled to latch on in the NFL since going undrafted last year.
Defensive ends like Stephen Weatherly and Everson Griffen can line up on the interior on passing downs, so the Vikings don't need two defensive tackles on the field at all times.
The Vikings have two rookie DTs, Jaylen Twyman and Jordon Scott, out for the season on injured reserve.
Pierce was the Vikings' big free agent signing in 2020, but opted out of last season for health reasons. He also dealt with a calf injury during training this year. Hopefully this elbow injury isn't too serious and he will be able to return at some point after the bye week.
We'll hear from Zimmer and Andre Patterson on Wednesday.
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