EAGAN. — Last offseason the Minnesota Vikings saw their duo of three-technique defensive tackles both leave for Seattle in free agency. Both of them came back to Minnesota — Tom Johnson midway through 2018 and Shamar Stephen this offseason. At Wednesday’s Organized Team Activities workout at TCO Performance Center, nobody had a bigger smile talking to the media than Pro Bowl nose tackle Linval Joseph.
“Shamar is my guy,” Joseph said excitedly. “The last four years he’s with us, last year he’s with Seattle, him coming back and bringing back that presence. He’s another guy who loves to coach too. He will help all the young guys to be as good as him because we need each other.”
The will need to see younger players like 2018 fourth-round pick Jalyn Holmes and 2017 fourth-rounder Jaleel Johnson step into roles to fill the gap left by Sheldon Richardson, Joseph said Stephen’s return solidifies the team’s run defense.
“Shamar is a good guy against the run,” Joseph said. “He does a lot of things that don’t really get credit. He’s a big part of this team. He was the last four years. We got far when Shamar was here, last year we took a step back because we didn’t have Shamar. Having him back, leadership, him being in the room, his effort every day, we’re a better team.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Joseph would be happy to see Stephen back considering the Vikings defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards and points against when he played around 40 percent of total snaps. Joseph also rated as the NFL’s sixth best defensive tackle in ’17 by Pro Football Focus.
When the Vikings announced Stephen’s signing, head coach Mike Zimmer explained that they were looking for more push up front after having two undersized three-technique DTs carry the load last year.
“I felt like all along this year that if going into next season we have maybe a little bit more size in the middle, that would help the linebackers and some of the secondary guys,” Zimmer said. “Help solidify some of the running game, we’re talking about doing some different things defensively this year, and being able to have a guy with Shamar’s versatility along with Linval [Joseph] inside, I think it will help us change some of the packages that we run.”
Zimmer also echoed Joseph’s appreciation for Stephen’s personality.
“He’s quiet, he works real hard,” Zimmer said. “You don’t really notice him, he just plays really, really good every time he goes out there. But yeah, it was really important, and again, some of the things that we’re thinking about doing and implementing this spring, I think it’s going to be really critical to have a guy like Shamar.”