Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
We’re back with the second pre-training camp installment of five questions (which is more than four and sounds like it to*), this time focusing on the Purple defense (including one Special Teams question). The defense has carried this team since head coach Mike Zimmer arrived and that could be the case again this season. But nothing ever stays static in the NFL, so here are five things to watch for as Vikings Training Camp at the TCO Performance Center begins next week.
What will we see from Anthony Barr in camp?
For all the grief that Anthony Barr gets for not always looking like he is on his game, or for his lack of “splash” plays in recent years, we should remember that he made the biggest hit of the season in 2017—one that turned into the most pivotal play of the year. (Aaron Rodgers does.)
Sure, the “Minneapolis Miracle” gets all the hype (heck, it even got a name), but Barr’s hit of Aaron Rodgers that broke his collar bone greatly helped the Vikings sweep the Green Bay Packers and win the NFC North. (Perhaps that play deserves a name—how about the “Mill City Mash Up” or the “Colossal Collarbone Collision?”)
Now, Barr returns in a contract year with his former college roommate and Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks just receiving his own contract extension. Barr and Kendricks have been playing next to each other for the better part of a decade and it has worked out well for the Vikings. I don’t see it changing soon.
“If there’s something there, [my agent] will run it by me,” Barr said told the Star Tribune at minicamp. “I’m making $12 million this year, man, I can’t complain. I’m coming to work, working hard. I’ve done all I can do to prove my worth. Hopefully they see that.”
Barr was spotted working with the defensive lineman in drills last month, so the Vikings are perhaps looking to improve his pass-rushing skills. That doesn’t look like a move you make if you aren’t forward looking with a player. Therefore, I see the contract getting worked out early in camp (which is often the Vikings MO) and Barr preparing for one of his best seasons yet. The naysayers will claim that getting the contract done will make him fat and happy (nee: lazy). But I think another hit on the Packers QB will go a longer way to cheer up everyone.
Does Richardson fit in with the line?
The Vikings biggest offseason acquisition (in size, that is) was 295-pound defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. He makes for a formidable presence in the interior of line next to Linval Joseph. It begs the question as to whether or not he will fit in with his new unit in Purple, especially since the players he replaced took his place in Seattle.
I look to one moment at the end of minicamp, when the offense was running some red zone plays against the defense. They were lined up and Zimmer called a timeout after seeing some confusion. Richardson threw up his arms in protest to the timeout, and when I questioned him on it later, he replied that the defense had a great play called and they were ready to do some damage.
His attitude indicates someone who is ready to do his job—a veteran defender who is already champing at the bit in minicamp. His attitude and work ethic will be worth watching in camp, as he joins very good unit already. If he brings a little “legion of boom” attitude to the defense, it might be the edge the squad is looking for.
How injured is Griffen and how soon before he is ready to go?
Speaking of the defensive line, another player to watch will be Everson Griffen, who suffered a mid-season injury last year that he never fully recovered from—he has plantar fasciitis, which is a troublesome ailment. Griffen was a spectator during OTAs and minicamp, and observers will be anxious to see him line up with the first team.
Right now, we don’t know when that will occur. According to Vikings.com, Griffen is supposed to be ready to go for training camp, but his injury is the kind that can flare up again and rest is vital to recovery. The Vikings, who held him out as a precaution this spring, will want to get him going as soon as possible in Eagan. But there’s no telling when and what we will be able to see from him at training camp. Stay tuned.
Depth chart watch: Is Mike Hughes rising?
The Vikings first-round draft pick, cornerback and return specialist Mike Hughes, had a great spring with his new team. As of this writing, he is still unsigned, but we expect that to be taken of before camp since the rookie contracts are slotted and easier to negotiate than they have been in the past. But perhaps he is taking his time and trying to get some incentive bonuses worked into his deal—such as playing time on both special teams and the defense.
That wouldn’t be a bad idea since I believe Hughes is going to be pushing a couple players ahead of him in both areas. His speed and shiftiness in the return game will lock him in a camp battle with aging veteran Marcus Sherels. I can’t see Sherels getting cut yet, but it has to happen at some point and this could be the season.
Hughes also received some nice compliments from Zimmer on how quickly he was picking up the defense, which is not so great news for another aging veteran, Terence Newman or Mackensie Alexander in the slot—or deep backup corner Sherels. Hughes is fast—we may see soon just how quickly he rises in the depth charts at camp.
Special teams—How soon does the kicker get named?
Okay, everyone knows the Vikings drafted a place kicker, Daniel Carlson, in the fifth round, particularly incumbent kicker Kai Forbath, who signed a new $1 million deal in the offseason. The question for these two players is when, not if, one will be gone, as teams don’t have the luxury for two kickers, especially in a league that is starting to de-emphasize them a bit.
The battle will be on at camp, and it was a virtual draw the last time we saw them at minicamp, although Carlson certainly has the stronger leg than the 30-year-old Forbath. The Vikings will keep the better kicker, but the dead cap space for cutting the two in 2018 are $200,000 for the vet and $62,003 for the rookie—which means it’s easier (financially) to cut the rookie.
But if you look at over the life of Carlson’s four-year contract, the total of dead cap money is $248,012—which is not much more than it would be to cut Forbath. And the savings in contract dollars by keeping the rookie becomes even greater year-to-year: a total of $2.5 million would be paid to Carlson and an estimated $4 million-plus for Forbath. So, may the better kicker win. And best of luck to Kai, going forward; I think he is going to need it. Look for a decision to take place early in camp.
(*With apologies to Common Man.)