The Vikings have a number of players to keep an eye on throughout training camp, but this year does not feature a plethora of story lines that involve young players potentially stealing a veteran’s role in the starting lineup. The most marquee camp battle of this nature perhaps resides at the left end position where it is Danielle Hunter vs. Brian Robison.
Hunter’s rookie season featured six sacks, more than he accumulated in three season at LSU, which meant that his “raw” label was either incredibly overblown or he’s a super fast learner… or both. Hunter now has plenty of attention as a bright young star, with mainstream lists pegging him as likely to break out in 2016, and his intimidating mix of size and athleticism will prove impossible for opposing coordinators to ignore.
Ahead of Hunter on the depth chart is Robison, a defensive end that knows a thing or two about being patient, as he had to wait his fair share before replacing Ray Edwards as the Vikings starter at left end despite plenty of evidence suggesting he was plenty capable.
Mike Zimmer is known for his exotic rotations and schemes on defense, so the “starter” label may not be as important in modern day Minnesota as it once was, but there is no denying that Hunter is a threat to Robison’s playing time.
And Robison knows it.
“I’m confident in my abilities,’’ Robison told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press this week. “If I go out there and do everything that I do and at the end of the day, if he’s better than me and he takes my job, that’s the way it is. But at the end of the day, I’m here for one thing and one thing only, and that’s to win a Super Bowl.’’
In 2015, Robison played within the defense on 898 snaps while Hunter only played 392. Those numbers stand to be dramatically different by this season’s conclusion, and Robison sounds plenty willing to help his own situation by expanding his usefulness beyond the typical niche.
“Like I said, for me it’s about winning the Super Bowl,” he said. “And if that means I’ve got to kick down inside, do some rushes inside and give our team the best opportunity to have the best four rushers that we can have, if it means that I got to play some linebacker stuff and things like that, then I’ve got to do that.’’
The Vikings aren’t exactly ocean-deep at the defensive tackle position, so getting Robison more involved at that position on passing downs could make plenty of sense. Additionally, if the weak side linebacker position remains unsettled, it isn’t impossible that he does indeed get some snaps there.
Still, the main thing to watch is still that left end position, where eventually Robison’s storied career as a Viking will give way to a talented young monster that is 12 years younger than him. It could happen next season, or in the middle of this coming season, but right now we can’t help but wonder if a change doesn’t occur as soon as this month.