Advancing a 10-6 wildcard playoff team from a year ago into a Super Bowl contender this season will take a few blue collar players willing to step up to a larger and more productive roll in 2013. Here are three early camp standout performers that have their stock trending upward after experiencing limited rolls in 2012.
Jarius Wright was inactive for the first 9 games last season but preformed well in the final 7 starts filling in for the injured Percy Harvin. The 4th round pick from Arkansas has carried over that late season momentum to OTAs and training camp this year. Wright will get most of his playing time and production in the slot but has the ability to play on the outside if needed. His confidence and his comfort within the offensive system entering his second year are on full display early on. Wright will be a top target for Ponder whether he is throwing across the middle, deep down field or just looking for a short dump off. Wright is a do it all kind of player with great hands and speed. As a backup punt returner, he might even be called upon to catch a punt once in a while. Wright’s increased roll in the offense this year and his increased production will be a key component to a successful season.
John Carlson sat out all of 2011 with the Seahawks, and was not as effective as many had hoped in his first season with the Viking in 2012. An injury last year in camp limited his ability to develop timing and chemistry with teammates which ultimately set him back. After a healthy off-season, one which also included a contract restructure, Carlson’s play is now standing out in camp. The 12,000 fans that packed Blakeslee Stadium in Mankato for Friday’s annual night practice saw Carlson find the end zone 3 times. Carlson is a big redzone target at 6-foot-5 251 pounds which Ponder will look to connect with him more often this year. Carlson only caught 8 passes last season for the Vikings. Nonetheless, he is healthy and poised this year to regain the production he had in his first 3 NFL seasons when he collected 137 receptions.
Bobby Felder is an under the radar guy to most Viking fans, but he is quietly moving up the depth chart in camp. After going undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft, the cornerback from Nichols State impressed the coaches enough last preseason to land a spot on the practice squad. The Vikings have done a good job in the past of actively promoting from within the practice squad. After a year of hard work on the scout team, Felder is ready to step up to the 53 man roster. Felder has moved ahead of Marcus Sherels as the #3 nickel corner on the latest Vikings’ depth chart. The nickel spot is not the only position he is try to win. Felder has taken camp reps as a gunner on the punt unit (1st and 2nd team). He has taken 2nd team reps on the kick off team, kick return team, and also on the punt return teams.
Cristy Brusoe in her camp notes is impressed with Bobby Felder as a punt returner. She says “he has shifty feet and quickness that isn’t duplicated by anyone other than maybe AP.” Priefer may not be giving Felder many reps as a punt returner just yet, but Frazier might want to take a look him in a preseason game. In a recent interview with Vikings.com, Frazier talked about the punt returner competition behind Marcus Sherels. “We have a few different guys. We want to take a look at Stephen Burton a little bit. We’re probably going to give Bobby Felder a chance. We’re debating about whether or not we want (Cordarrelle) Patterson to have a chance to do it as well. Jarius Wright may get an opportunity. So we have a few candidates to potentially take a look at and we’ll just see how it goes as the games unfold.”
I can’t really say that the stock on Christian Ponder, Erin Henderson or Josh Robinson is up or down right now. So, unfortunately they didn’t make the list. With that said, the success of the Vikings will greatly depend on these players’ ability to improve upon their production from a season ago. I am not worried; odds are good they will all show signs of progress in 2013. I am optimistic that their stock will slowly travel in a more northerly direction as the regular season rolls on. Come playoff time, don’t be surprised if they are all enjoying “Rock Star” status in the state of Minnesota.