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6 Storylines To Follow At Vikings Training Camp

The Minnesota Vikings host their first training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan.

For Minnesota Vikings fans, the days of traveling to Mankato for training camp are in the rearview mirror. It’s a weird feeling for some (especially this Minnesota State grad), but the exciting Eagan era is just a few short weeks away. As the Vikings prepare to host their first-ever training camp at TCO Performance Center, here are six developing storylines that will be worth monitoring in the weeks ahead.

1. Plenty of position battles

Kicker: Kai Forbath vs. Daniel Carlson

It’s a classic veteran vs. rookie showdown. Although Kai Forbath had a decent season last year (he made 32 of 38 field goals) — he missed five extra points. Seeing a need to be more consistent in the kicking department, the Vikings selected Daniel Carlson in the fifth round of April’s draft. Due to his solid kicking in OTAs, big leg and draft position, Carlson should be considered the heavy favorite to land the job.

The last time the Vikings drafted a kicker was in 2012 when Blair Walsh was selected in the sixth round. Walsh went on to make 35-of-38 field goals that season, including 10-of-10 from 50+ yards. In 2016, his last season with the Vikings, Walsh went 12-of-16 with four missed extra points in nine games before being replaced by Forbath.

Nickel cornerback: Mackensie Alexander vs. Mike Hughes

Trae Waynes proved last season that he’s a capable counterpart to star corner Xavier Rhodes. So with Waynes and Rhodes locking up the two outside CB positions, who will man the slot? Last season it was veteran Terence Newman that earned the majority of snaps at nickel cornerback with Mackensie Alexander seeing time there as well. This season, it appears rookie Mike Hughes may be the one stealing snaps away from Alexander.

Although Alexander saw the most first-team reps in OTAs, Hughes impressed coaches this spring and is reportedly very much in the mix for snaps in the nickel package. It remains to be seen how things will play out, but the improved play of Alexander, the acquisitions of Hughes and Holton Hill and a possible position change for Newman are all signs that point to the likely end of the 39 year-old’s reign as the regular nickelback.

Third running back: Mack Brown vs. Roc Thomas vs. Mike Boone

Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray are clearly number one and two atop the Vikings running back depth chart. After that, well… it’s anyone’s guess. The Vikings acquired Mack Brown last season off waivers from Washington’s practice squad. The 26 year-old saw action at RB3 during spring practices but appeared to be limited during the team’s minicamp.

The other contenders, Roc Thomas and Mike Boone, are both undrafted rookies. Thomas, 22, is a year younger but Boone stood out during OTAs. He received the bulk of the action at RB3 during the team’s minicamp and appears to be slightly ahead of the other two in what could be the most compelling competition of camp.

Backup quarterback: Trevor Siemian vs. Kyle Sloter

Kirk Cousins is entrenched at QB1, but what about QB2? This offseason the Vikings traded for Trevor Siemian who was Denver’s Week 1 starter in 2016 and 2017. He started 24 games the last two seasons, including ten last year. While he wasn’t great as a starter for the Broncos (13-11 record, 5,700 yards, 30 TD, 24 INTs, 59.3% completion rate), he does have substantial starting experience. Considering Kyle Sloter has yet to appear in a regular season game, it’s clear Siemian is the favorite to land the backup job.

Third wide receiver: Kendall Wright vs. Laquon Treadwell

The receiver job behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs is up for grabs and Laquon Treadwell is doing his best to seize it. The former first-round pick was targeted early and often during spring practices and didn’t disappoint. In what could be a make-or-break season for the 23 year-old, Treadwell will compete with newcomer Kendall Wright for a role that should be quite prominent in the Vikings’ new offense.

Defensive tackle: David Parry vs. Jalyn Holmes vs. Jaleel Johnson

Despite losing Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen in free agency, the Vikings upgraded the defensive line this offseason by adding Sheldon Richardson to the mix. He’ll partner with All-Pro nose tackle Linval Joseph. Richardson will replace Johnson as the starting 3-technique while the competition to replace Stephen, who was predominantly used as a spell for Joseph, may include up to three players.

David Parry was signed this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. The 6-2, 317-pound lineman proved in the first two years of his career (with the Indianapolis Colts) that he can be a disruptive force when healthy. But, will Parry be able to get his career back on track after an alcohol-related arrest in early 2017? He only appeared in one game for New Orleans last season.

His competition includes Jalyn Holmes, a 2018 fourth-round pick, and Jaleel Johnson, a 2017 4th-round pick out of Iowa. Holmes, who played at THE Ohio State, will transition from defensive end to defensive tackle (3-technique) for the Vikings.

Johnson will be Parry’s main competition. Depending on how things shake out, Johnson could be in line for a dramatic increase in playing time a year after being stuck behind Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen on the depth chart.

2. Offensive line questions

The biggest question mark heading into the season is once again the offensive line. Last year the team’s front office hushed critics by revamping the group in one offseason. This time around there’s new questions facing the front five.

Joe Berger and Jeremiah Sirles are no longer with the team, leaving two key voids to fill. The Vikings experimented by putting Mike Remmers at right guard and Rashod Hill at right tackle during OTAs. The obvious question with this lineup is whether or not Hill, who had a 43.6 Pro Football Focus grade last season (the 68th-ranked tackle), is starting material.

Would it make more sense to keep Remmers at right tackle and use a player like Danny Isidora, Tom ComptonJosh Andrews or Colby Gossett at right guard? Another possibility could be rookie tackle Brian O’Neill cracking the starting rotation. No matter who plays where, expect the Vikings offensive line to be held under a microscope throughout training camp and into the regular season.

3. Dalvin Cook returns

Cook has all but fully returned from a torn ACL that he suffered last season. The running back was able to practice with the team during the final week of OTAs and all signs point to him being ready to put on the pads in Eagan.

OTHER NOTABLE INJURIES

Pat Elflein (ankle) is still recovering from a broken ankle he suffered last season. He did not participate in spring OTAs or minicamp but is expected to be ready for training camp in late July.

Everson Griffen (undisclosed) did not participate in the team’s OTAs or minicamp. Griffen was reportedly dealing with a minor knee injury before OTAs so that could be the culprit. He’s expected to be ready for training camp.

Andrew Sendejo (calf) was also a non-participant during OTAs and minicamp. At this point it’s unclear if he will be ready for training camp. Jayron KearseAnthony Harris, or Terence Newman would step in for Sendejo if he’s unable to play.

Jalyn Holmes (hand) broke his hand during OTAs and missed the team’s mandatory minicamp. He’s expected to be ready for training camp.

4. Golden opportunities

Linebacker

With linebacker Kentrell Brothers suspended for the first four games of 2018, there will be a chance for someone to step up in his absence. Reshard CliettAntwione WilliamsEric WilsonBrett TaylorDevante DownsGarret Dooley and Mike Needham will be given the opportunity to fill the void caused by Brothers’ suspension, or even win a spot on the roster outright.

Wide receiver

The same can be said for wide receiver Cayleb Jones. Jones, who could have become the WR4, instead will need to prove to coaches in training camp and the preseason that he deserves to be on the roster following cuts. His four-game suspension provides an opportunity for players like Stacy ColeyBrandon ZylstraTavarres KingChad BeebeKorey RobertsonJake Wieneke or Jeff Badet to make the squad.

5. A shiny new offense

Shortly after he was hired, Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo told KFAN radio his offensive scheme included a balanced attack that utilized diversity among running backs and a strong offensive line to close out games. He will also add RPO’s (run-pass options) to the offensive repertoire while scheming to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers early and often.

DeFilippo inherited an offense that performed well (even without a star quarterback) under former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Now, the new OC has Cousins as his quarterback with Cook, Murray, Diggs, Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, and David Morgan at his disposal. If DeFilippo schemes to his player’s strengths and, like Shurmur, takes pressure off the offensive line with clever play-calling, this could be a very entertaining offense to follow in 2018.

6. Contract extensions looming?

Although both players are signed through the 2018 season, Stefon Diggs ($1.9 million cap hit) and Anthony Barr ($12.3 million cap hit) are next in line for new deals. Considering the recent extensions of Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks as well as the Vikings’ tendency to target training camp to strike deals, will the team follow suit and announce a new contract extension (or two) during this year’s camp?

According to the NFLPA public salary cap report, the Vikings currently have $14.061 million in cap space.

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Sean Borman

Sean Borman is a writer with Minnesota roots that's still somehow an optimist. He was an intern with the Vikings during college and previously wrote for Rant Sports. You can find Sean on the golf course and on Twitter @SeanBoarMan.

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10 Comments

  1. Like Blair Walsh, Daniel Carlson had better sophomore and junior seasons than his freshman and senior years in college, but Carlson’s lowest and highest FG percentages ranged were only just over 13 percentage points apart, 74.2% vs. 87.5%, while Blair’s FTA percentages ranged over 30 percentage points apart, from 60 to 90.9 percent. That gives me hope that even if Carlson isn’t among the league’s leaders is FGM percentage, he’s not going to take wild swings from year to year, either.

    CB depth went from being the second biggest hole on the team besides starting RG to being a huge strength once Hughes was drafted, Newman re-signed and Hill signed. I’m hopeful that Alexander will seize the bull by the horns and establish himself as a legit slot corner this year and top slot man going forward, but if he doesn’t, we’ve got the depth to do the job this year, and the developmental talent to still give us an excellent cornerbacking corps for years to come.

    I don’t expect more than 40 carries or 16 receptions out of the RB3 and FB positions this year, if even that. Ham seems capable of giving us a few short yardage TD’s, though, and could frankly do both jobs, RB3 and FB, if need be.

    Does the coaching staff want a six-man DL rotation or an eight-man rotation? Are they confident that Jaleel Johnson can both rush the passer and stuff the run? I admit that I’ve wanted a legit back-up one-tech nose tackle for several years, and questioned if Shamar Stephen could do that job, but can Parry, a pure NT, get enough snaps, especially if Joseph continues to get the vast majority of first and second down snaps? No one wants Robison to play on nearly 60% of the team’s defensive snaps, but is Weatherly, or any of the other Day 3 draft pick and UDFA defensive ends on the roster, capable of jumping from 9% of defensive snaps to 20, 30 or 40% of those snaps?

    I’ve been skeptical of moving a life-long OT to guard, but if Remmers can do it and provide sufficient inside pass protection to Cousins, I’m more optimistic about Hill and/or O’Neill at RT than I am about Compton, Gossett or Isidora at RG.

    We’ve got a lot of physically gifted youngsters competing for jobs at WR, DE and LB, but there’s a degree to which it feels like Spielman is taking a lot of lower round draft picks and UDFA’s and throwing them all against the wall to see if any of them will stick. There is a chance that none of them will, and that second, third or fourth rounders will need to be used over the next couple of drafts to finally shore up the depth in these units.

    If the OL can provide Cousins with enough of a pocket, and DeFilippo doesn’t ask too much of the line, yes, this could be a top five offense in points.

    We should be able to extend Diggs and Barr before the start of the season, if not training camp, and Waynes, Richardson and Easton next off-season if they earn it. I would have liked to use some of our 2019 draft capital to get a young interior O lineman in this year’s draft, but we do have four picks in the first three rounds nest year, and should be able to fill out the roster with those picks.

    1. I REALLY like that observation on Carlson vs. Walsh. That’s music to my ears.

      You’re right on w/the CB situation as well. Rhodes, Waynes, Hughes, Mack, Newman, Hill – ridiculous depth.

      I’m interested to see how DeFilippo utilizes his backs. With Cook and Murray you don’t need much else, but an effective RB3 would be a nice luxury.

      The defensive line rotation is another interesting development and I’m not sure (yet) how it will function, but I think the team (specifically Andre Patterson) is really high on Jaleel Johnson AND David Parry, so I can see both of them making the team.

      As far as the o-line I think it’s anyone’s guess at this point, but it does seem like Rashod Hill will get an opportunity to start at RT.

      I’m absolutely fine with how Spielman is filling the depth positions with draft picks. He’s creating competition, so I’d rather take the winner of a battle between players over an aging veteran or a UDFA with no experience. Plus, like you said, the team in pretty good shape with draft picks moving forward.

    2. Cka2nd, very interesting response. I truly enjoyed reading it. You seem to have a knack for writing. If you’ve written or currently write about the Vikings I’d be interested in reading. [email protected] .

  2. Mackensie Alexander could be like so many other CB’s signed in FA or drafted by the Vikings ~ It’s a fact that it takes time for any new member to learn Zimmer’s defense ~ I would say look at Rhodes who was who took about 1.5 years to start to come on as someone who could be counted on 95% of the time ~ Waynes has taken his sweet time as well ~ Like around 2.5 years before he fully took the job fully away from 38 (((at the time ))) Newman who them started seeing more time at the Nickel CB spot ~

    IMHO if Hughes somehow does what no one else has been able to do and starts somewhere as a CB then that’s great ~ And Alexander will move back outside where he played so well in college ~ But there is still a chance Alexander comes around in his 3rd season much like Waynes did ~ Maybe ~

    1. You’re not the first person to remind me about CBs taking time to develop – and it’s a good observation. That’s what’s so interesting about Hughes taking strides already in the nickelback role. If he can take over in the slot and excel, he’ll be well worth the first-round pick and the Vikings pass defense could be one of the best we’ve ever seen.

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