MANKATO — When Minnesota's veteran defensive linemen are pulled from a game for a play or two to rest, the coaches are well-prepared for the response.
The summons to the sideline has often been greeted like a root canal. Or a debt collector. Or a week in seventh-grade detention.
So with the starters one year older and the Vikings even deeper at a position group already one of the team's strongest, well, these gripes are bound to grow louder.
"They know that at some point they're going to come out of the ball game," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "That's going to be the best thing for the team, not necessarily the best thing for their number of reps, but we want to make sure that we keep them fresh."
Jared Allen, the NFL's sack leader since he entered the league in 2004, has never been hesitant to voice his opposition to coming out of the game. Brian Robison has never been a fan of it, either. Part of what's required for effective pass rushing, of course, is a let-me-do-this attitude.
Backup Everson Griffen, who can play both end spots, is coming off a breakout season. He's 25. Allen is 30, and Robison is 30. No matter how many tackles for loss the starters rack up, those ages are just as important of numbers in this playing time equation.
"They are all fierce competitors, and they are all incredibly tough guys," defensive line coach Brendan Daly said. "They're in great physical condition, and they have a little bit of a sense of invincibility for lack of a better term, that they can go all day every day."
Backup nose tackle Fred Evans has been challenging Letroy Guion. Stalwart under tackle Kevin Williams will turn 33 next week, and the Vikings drafted his replacement, Sharrif Floyd, in the first round. So the job share is as inevitable there as anywhere. The Vikings have said they'd prefer Williams to take only 30 to 40 snaps per game, which could only be half of a given contest. Last season, Williams often played about 70 percent of the downs.