You guys, it's here. Training Camp officially starts for the Minnesota Vikings, but as they have for the past few years the Vikings along with other teams have opened early camp to rookie players, first year players and quarterbacks to come in for an intensive three day period of extra work and preparation.
With those players on the field for the first time today at TCO Performance Center, it's also our first opportunity to chat with Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and one of our only chances to talk with general manager Rick Spielman before the season starts.
Usually guarded in what he says and hiding behind the vail of secrecy where most GMs in the NFL live most of their lives, Spielman opened up a little bit today and shared what he sees as five of the most heated position battles are coming into camp's open later this week.
*In fairness, this is the part where I have to mention that obviously the general manager of the team is honing in on all position battles and all players during camp, but when he mentions specifics, it's probably time to take note.
The first position that Spielman referenced was the cornerback positions. It's interesting because the team feels that they have a lot of depth at cornerback, surely on the top end with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes who were both the center of trade rumors this offseason, but also trickling down into the second tier with Mackensie Alexander, Holton Hill and Mike Hughes growing into their own. But therein lies the question, the Vikings may very well start the season without Mike Hughes and nobody knows exactly how he'll return to the football field after a year long injury to his knee. And then there's Holton Hill, who will miss the first three games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. There may be depth at corner, but to start the season it might be a little dicey. But as Spielman is certainly considering, those two situations could open the door for someone else to step in to start the season.
Spielman wasn't specific about which part of the defensive line he's honing in on, so let's assume that it's the entire thing. The only ones who should feel 100% solidified with their role on the defensive line are Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph. From there you have some questions. Can Everson Griffen bounce back after a tumultuous season on and off the field last year? What does the team have in Hercules Mata'afa? They had high hopes last year before he was injured in camp, and having switched from LB to DE can he put on enough weight to be effective? Shamar Stephen is back on the inside after a short stint with Seattle, is it his role to lose next to Linval? What about Ade Aruna? Tashawn Bower? Stephen Weatherly and some of the other names that we've heard tossed around the past few years?
This is probably the no brainer of all no brainers but seeing that young players like Brian O'Neill and Garret Bradbury will seemingly have a big role this season, Rick's got his eyes set on other young players that might adapt quickly to the system and the league and contribute. How will Elflein handle the move to guard? Will having an experienced center next to him help Bradbury adjust? How might Dru Samia, Brett Jones and Danny Isidora factor in?
Because of some of the other roster decisions the team will have to make, the common thought is that the Vikings will roll with just two quarterbacks on the roster and tuck one away on the practice squad. Assuming that Jake Browning is the practice squad option, figuring out the backup behind Kirk is an interesting battle to watch this year also. Kyle Sloter has been here but hasn't really ever gotten a chance. Sean Mannion came in this year but hasn't pulled away in early offseason activities. Could Browning wow them all and actually put up a fight for that backup spot and forget the practice squad?
This position took an interesting turn this last week when rookie longsnapper Austin Cutting was cleared by the Air Force to serve his commitment as a recruiter while simultaneously playing in the NFL. That means that he and veteran Kevin McDermott will battle it out in camp for the starting role. Teams only carry one long snapper, Cutting is more affordable but he'll have to prove his worth first.
Consider this just a tease for what's to come from Training Camp this year. The Vikings have a good team, but they're not a perfect team so changes will be made.