MANKATO, Minn. - Finding a balance in the NFL between preserving the health of team's best players and maximizing their talent is always a trick.
Take the Minnesota Vikings, with All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen. He just turned 30, but he has never missed a game in four previous years with the team and is coming off a 22-sack performance that ranks second on the league's single-season list.
The Vikings want to keep their entire front four fresh, so all of the second-stringers are counted on for regular playing time, sort of a hockey-line substitution philosophy that new defensive coordinator Alan Williams uses. But Allen doesn't like it. Not at all.
''I'll do anything to win,'' Allen said, ''but I don't want to come off the field.''
Coach Leslie Frazier said the staff concluded that some of their starters were worn out last year in the fourth quarter in some of the games. Allen played 94.5 percent of the snaps last season, according to game reviews by the Twin Cities radio station website 1500ESPN.com.
''I work so hard in the offseason to get in the best shape that I can. My theory has always been if you want to rest me, rest me during the week because I get paid to play on Sundays,'' Allen said.
That's quite the contrast from cornerback Antoine Winfield's attitude.
Part of it is a different personality. They're also a half-decade apart in age. But Winfield is fully on board with the team's plan to ration his time.
''I'm a role player,'' Winfield said, a strange-sounding declaration for a player who has been one of the most important defenders on this team since he signed as a free agent in 2004. ''This is year 14 for me. You can't start in this league forever, because this is a young man's game. But I'm keeping up with it.''
Wear and tear hasn't been a problem for Winfield, though he missed six games in 2009 with a right foot injury. Last season he strained his neck and then broke his collarbone in his first game back. He played in only five games in 2011.
''Freak accidents, like me falling like I've done a million times. It just happens I fell in the wrong position,'' Winfield said.
Fluke or not, the Vikings want Winfield at full strength for the whole year this time. So during training camp he gets plenty of ''r and r,'' as Frazier called it.
''We don't want to take all the tread off those tires. We have to be smart in how we manage his practice time,'' Frazier said.
During games, too, Winfield won't be an every-down player. The Vikings (29th in the inaugural AP Pro32 power rankings) signed free agents Chris Carr and Zack Bowman, drafted Josh Robinson and brought back Chris Cook after his legal trouble last season to bolster their depth at cornerback.
Winfield is at his best in the slot position in the nickel defense, where he can use his quickness to dart into the backfield for big tackles for loss and cover with smaller receivers running inside routes.
''You're like a linebacker in there,'' Winfield said.
So Williams said they'll use a ''pitch count'' - borrowing from baseball this time - to try to keep the 35-year-old Winfield fresh. And that's fine with him, even if it's not for Allen.
''I've got a couple more years on Jared too so that could play a role in it,'' Winfield said, laughing. ''Jared, he's a great guy and a great competitor and I'm sure he wants to be out there and play just as much as I do.''
NOTES: Third string offensive tackle Kevin Murphy was taken by ambulance to the hospital as a precaution because of heat-related illness during the afternoon practice. He walked off the field with a wet towel on his head and sat in a tub of cold water before leaving on another day when the temperature reached the 90s. But Frazier said afterward that Murphy was doing fine. ... The offensive line depth is deteriorating, with backup tackles DeMarcus Love (shoulder, unspecified) and Patrick Brown (left knee) still out. Geoff Schwartz, in the running for the right guard job with favorite Brandon Fusco, was back in the Twin Cities for an MRI test on his abdomen. He missed all of last season with the Carolina Panthers because of an injury to his right hip.