Minnesota Vikings 2012: Training Camp Position Battles
Training camp is less than a month away, and the Minnesota Vikings still have many key positions available on the roster. This is the time when it begins to become much clearer who will be featured in purple by the start of the season. With many of last year's starters gone, there will have to be just as many new faces.
And with new faces comes competition. That is almost always a good thing, as competition brings the best out of each player. After a 3-13 season, almost no player is guaranteed a spot, but most of the starters can be assumed.
But the spots that can't be assumed are up for the most capable player to grab. With that said, here is a look at the biggest position battle heading into training camp and my projected winners.
Cedric Griffin signed with the Redskins after being cut by the Vikings this offseason. While once a good player, injuries had taken their toll, and he struggled mightily all of last season. Now the team looks to replace him.
The battle for the third corner position is a key one, as the league has become so pass happy. This player will most likely end up playing on the outside, giving starter Antoine Winfield the chance to play inside where he most excels. With Chris Cook rejoining the team, the starters are set. So that leaves the competition to three main players.
Bowman has starting experience with the Bears. During his time there, he was constantly plagued by injuries, typically in the foot.
He has good size for a corner, stand at just above six feet and a shade under 200 pounds. He has decent hands, as depicted by his six interceptions back in 2009.
He used to be able to keep up with most receivers, but injuries might have slowed him over the past few seasons. Even if that is the case, his speed is far from a liability.
On the downside, he has a history of biting on double moves and has never been a sound tackler.
The Carr signing brought in another veteran to the Vikings' secondary and one with more recent starting experience than Bowman. He also adds return ability to the team, but that is inconsequential in this context.
What Carr brings to the defense is intelligence. He has always been more of a smart player, and reports say he is learning his new defense so quickly that he is already helping teach it to the younger players.
He did miss time with injury last year and fell on the depth chart in Baltimore because of it.
Carr has a different set of skills than Bowman, being more agile and a better tackler. However, he isn't quite as fast and doesn't have the same size, measuring in at 5'10" and 180 pounds.
This electrifying rookie out of the University of Central Florida is freakishly fast. He ran the fastest 40 at the NFL combine, and has the size (5'10'' and 199 pounds) to match against most receivers.
His best qualities are his speed and that he is a very capable tackler. He has good ball instincts and solid hands.
On the downside he needs to work on his press coverage. He doesn't turn his hips as well as he could, which can cause him to be caught out of position. He also didn't consistently face top talent in college, and that could take him time to learn.
Predicted winner: Carr
Carr brings the most immediate impact with his ability to quickly learn the playbook and will be able to groom Robinson into Winfield's eventual replacement. Bowman has just had too many injuries to fully compete against either Carr or Robinson.
Anthony Herra was released this offseason to save on cap space, and because his play had been declining. He was an average player who played with heart. While mistakes happened, no one could ever say he wasn't giving it his all. But it was time for him to go.
This opens up the competition for his replacement. With the rest of the line set, this spot remains the only question mark. The player who wins will have the tough task of protecting the team's young quarterback. With Phil Loadholt's struggles last year, the winner might even have to anchor the entire right side. I see the battle coming down to three players.
Fusco already has all the coaches talking about how much he has improved. In college he showed he was strong and extremely durable. He has learned the blocking scheme quickly and rarely gets beat straight up. He also brings with him some good size, standing at 6'4'' and weighing just over 300 pounds.
There aren't many issues with his game, but the few there are could potentially be big ones. He has never proved to be a great zone blocker, and his footwork leaves something to be desired. His limited experience also works against him here.
Schwartz is a big man (6'6'' and 331 pounds) yet still has the quickness to move around as much as a guard needs to, which is rare. He is great in the run game, using his massive size to help him shove defenders out of the way. His footwork might be his greatest asset, as he is very capable to stick with the block once he starts it.
I didn't notice that many downsides to his game, other than his obvious injury history, but I did see that his recovery skill isn't the greatest. If the defender gets a good jump, he can't stick with him.
Berger will be entering his ninth NFL season, and during that time he has started 27 games. He was mostly a backup filling in for injured starters during that time, like he did last season for the Vikings. His experience might be the best thing he has going for him in this battle as the other two players around him are just more talented.
If Berger was ever going to emerge, it would have been in 2010 when he started 14 games for the Miami Dolphins. He didn't even play well enough to make their 2011 roster and instead signed with Minnesota to provide depth.
That is really all I see him doing this year for the team, as he isn't proficient enough in any blocking scheme to be relied upon as a starter.
Predicted winner: Schwartz
Despite coming off his injury, Schwartz is the best player of the group and will prove to be a steal in free agency. If Loadholt continues to struggle, don't be surprised to see Schwartz move to tackle and one of the other two guys get a shot at guard, most likely Fusco.
Third Wide Receiver
Devin Aromashodu and Bernard Berrian started the year as the No. 3 receiver, with Aromashodu replacing him after Berrian was cut. Neither produced well, and that poor play opened up the competition for their 2012 replacement.
With Percy Harvin and newcomer Jerome Simpson basically entrenched as starters, the third receiver slot remains open. Whoever wins this position battle will most likely play on the outside rather than in the slot, as that is where Harvin should spend most of his time.
The team is expected to run many two tight end sets, which could limit the players' time on the field, making it all the more important that he be reliable.
With an inexperienced quarterback, the receivers will most likely have to make plays on their own as Christian Ponder continues to adjust in his second season. While there are many receivers on the team, I see the competition coming down to just three.
Childs was slowed by injuries during his senior season at Arkansas, which caused him to drop to the fourth round. He came to the Vikings with high expectations but missed most of the OTAs with a calf injury. That missed time makes training camp more important for Childs than it is for other players, as he has yet to really show what he can do.
He is a big receiver, standing at 6'3'' and weighing about 220 pounds. He is capable of using that size to his advantage against smaller defenders. He has agility and speed beyond his size and runs some solid routes.
He showed he is a willing blocker in the run game, which could help him get this spot. It all comes down to if he shows he can be the player he was before his injury. If he can, he should be a shoo-in for this spot.
Wright is a speedster and has the experience at both slot and on the outside. He is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. During OTAs, he showed he was a solid route runner with reliable hands.
While he will need time to reach his full potential and lacks the prototypical size of most outside receivers, he has shown he is more gifted than most receivers on the roster. His biggest issue is that if Childs shows up at training camp, it will be hard for Wright to win the spot from him.
He has the size of a No. 1 receiver, standing at 6'4'' and 220 pounds. He lacks elite speed and has never reached the potential that caused him to be a first-round pick back in 2004. He doesn't use his size as well as most big receivers, and he struggles to get open.
He does have solid hands and brings some veteran leadership to the receivers on the team. If he can bounce back from his injury, he has a shot at this position, but being 30 years old makes that less likely.
Predicted winner: Wright
I think Childs will take some time to fully reach his potential. While he should be fully healthy, he is integrated into a new system at the same time he tries to get back to football speed.
So Wright will become the No. 3 receiver this year. His ability to play both in the slot and on the outside, as well as being more integrated into the system, is what wins him this battle.
Jenkins' role will decrease gradually and Childs' will increase at the same pace, with the constant being Wright.
Wide Receiver Replacing Simpson
Before you harass me in the comments, I didn't forget about Simpson's three-game suspension. I made his replacement during that time a different slide because I find the battle for which player will replace him to be different than the other battle, because whoever replaces him has the tough task of being the No. 2 receiver.
That is a whole other level of responsibilities. This player would also have to step up as it appears Ponder and Simpson already have a strong relationship. I see it coming down to the same players, with the addition of Aromashodu.
I add Aromashodu to this list because he is similar in play style to Simpson. They are the same height, both 6'2'', and almost the same weight, with Aromashodu being about five pounds heavier.
Aromashodu has never been consistent, but last year he was targeted 78 times. Ponder must have tried to like him, but Aromashodu only caught it 26 times. Not all of those misses should be on him, but a No. 2 receiver (which he would be when replacing Simpson) has to make more.
When you analyze him, he is fast and a decent route runner but lacks consistent hands and tends to give up on plays a little early.
Childs may be the favorite to win this spot because of his potential and size. His lack of knowledge of the system, as well as him not having a relationship developed with Ponder yet, are his biggest downfalls to starting early.
His size is his weakness here. Unless he shows he is phenomenal during training camp and preseason, he won't start based solely on the fact that the team would have two small wide outs on the field together. Regardless of how they play, size becomes an issue at that point.
His knowledge of the offense and history with Ponder work to his advantage here. He isn't at gifted as the other players, but the team will be looking more for consistency for the first three games.
Predicted winner: Jenkins
Jenkins is the most like Simpson and has the best relationship with Ponder out of all the players listed. When Simpson returns, unless Jenkins has played out of his mind, a big drop in the depth chart will be awaiting him.
Aromashadu will be cut if he doesn't win this spot, as there just won't be room to keep him on the roster.
The departure of Hussain Abdullah, who is taking a year off with his brother, and Terrell Johnson leaves two spots open at the safety position. While one will most likely be filled by Harrison Smith, the other is wide open.
Whoever takes over will be replacing a disappointing aspect of the team, to say the least. So long as these guys can stay in position, they will be an improvement.
However, the team is looking for a long-term answer at the position opposite Smith, and these three players have a chance to try to prove themselves in the coming season.
A cornerback converted to safety last season as a rookie, Raymond was thrown into the fire due to the injuries and poor play of the starters. He showed above-average coverage skills, especially in the zone. He lacked the size to man up against opposing tight ends and struggled to assist in run support.
He needs to improve his tackling if he is to make an impact at this level. He had his best game against the Redskins, having an interception and seven tackles, helping the team earn its third and final win of the season.
A solid special teams player for the Vikings for two seasons, Sanford was given the opportunity to start last season and looked completely overwhelmed. He will once again be given the opportunity to fight for a starting spot this season.
He is a great tackler and one of the harder hitters on the Vikings. He plays well against the run. On the downside he struggled mightily against the pass last season, and his lack of coverage skills, both man and zone, was exposed. He will need to drastically improve to remain a starter.
Another corner that the team is attempting to convert into a safety as a pro, Blanton brings a similar skill set as Raymond. He lacked ideal speed for an NFL corner, so the transition to safety might be necessary.
He is a larger body than Raymond, which could help him match up against the larger tight ends. He was a smart player in college, especially when in zone, and has the ability to make plays on the ball. His tackling needs some work, though it shouldn't be an issue.
His biggest challenge is his lack of experience at both safety and in the NFL.
Projected winner: Raymond
Sanford had his shot last season, and the coaching staff found him under-qualified. Raymond, on the other hand, flashed his potential. He has a shot to be a ball hawk with Smith opposite him, playing the more physical side of the ball.
However, his spot isn't guaranteed. Look for both Blanton and undrafted free agent Bobby Felder to consistently compete throughout the preseason and season.
E.J. Henderson was a quality player for many years. He faced some injury problems down the stretch but was able to overcome it at first. He should have won comeback player of the year in 2010 for his amazing return to form.
However, in 2011 he appeared to have lost a step. He was a liability in pass defense and contributed to the team's horrendous numbers. It was sad to see him leave, but it was time to move on.
Having said that, I wish there was a more proven replacement. The players up for middle linebacker have very limited experience, with two of them being rookies.
That is why I said the spot is the third linebacker, rather than middle linebacker. There is always the chance that either Erin Henderson or Chad Greenway move to the middle, leaving an outside linebacker spot open.
Brinkley has the most starting experience in the Vikings defense and should be the early favorite to win it. He played well in his rookie season while filling in for the injured Henderson. 2010 was a year for him to fully learn the position behind one of the better starters in the NFL.
His injury caused a big setback for him in 2011, where he was expected to compete with Erin Henderson for starting outside backer duties. He was stout against the run and average against the pass when he previously played for the team.
Coming off of his hip injury and missing a lot of OTAs with a different injury could set him back in his hunt to start this season.
While he is primarily a lineman, he saw time as a linebacker last season. He is a great tackler and a physical phenom. He has tremendous talent against the pass. He can rush the quarterback better than any linebacker on the team.
His biggest weakness is in covering the pass, but he could use some work against the run when playing backer. He is more of a outside linebacker than a middle one, and if he wins the spot, I see Erin Henderson taking over for his brother.
He has limited starting experience in his five seasons in the NFL. He has primarily been a special-teams player, when he has played he struggled in coverage. He isn't as physically gifted as the other guys on this list, but he has more knowledge of the league. He should be able to play against the run, but not dominantly.
He will be given a chance to play due solely because of the team's struggles last season.
I don't know much about this guy outside of the fact that he is a good tackler and extremely hard hitter. Outside of that, what I have seen is that he needs some work to develop his pass coverage skills. He should be able to stop the run as well as everybody else on this list, but he is a big unknown.
CFL players are a big gamble, but without any guaranteed money, he was a worthwhile signing.
Cole was a strong collegiate player, capable of playing both outside and middle linebacker. He has the size, and most of his experience comes at the middle spot. He showed he is capable in both run and pass defense situations and was a solid tackler.
He has a chance to develop into a late-round steal for the team and is most likely their best option in defense of the pass.
Predicted winner: Brinkley if he is healthy, Cole if not
Brinkley has the most experience, and the team seems high on him. I'm not sold on his abilities, especially coming off of an injury, but if he is healthy by the start of the season, it will be his spot to lose.
Cole will take over if Brinkley can't because he has more cover skills than either Mitchell or Elimimian, and Griffen will focus mostly on the defensive line.
Second Defensive Tackle
As every Viking fan knows, the Remi Ayodele experiment did not work out. He played in all 16 games, starting 13 of them, and collected just 15 total tackles. His job was to clog the middle and face double teams, and had he done that, the numbers wouldn't matter.
But he didn't. He faced single teams almost exclusively and was unable to do anything. The team is better off without him.
Vying to take over his spot are a mix of young players. Each one wants the opportunity to prove himself as worthy of being a starter, and they need to step in and produce. Whoever wins has the honor of playing alongside Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, and Brian Robison. Due to this, the winner will rarely face double teams and therefore must produce.
Guion is a bigger body (6'4'', 303 pounds) at the defensive tackle position than the other two. He has average strength and good footwork but isn't a typical three-down tackle. He knows how to use his technique well but can't really clog the middle.
What he lacks is top-of-the-line strength. He can generate some pressure but isn't a real nose tackle. In limited time along the defensive line, he has collected 38 tackles and two sacks.
While I'm not fully aware of why, the Vikings re-signed him for a reason. He most likely was brought back to add some depth along the defensive line. He is very similar in size to Guion, standing at 6'4" and weighing 305 pounds.
He is known as more of a strength player that lacks technique, though, which might fill in better at the nose tackle position.
However, given he wasn't trusted at all two years ago when Pat Williams was at his worst, and last year they favored Ayodele, I don't see why he would get the shot this year.
He is the eventual replacement for Kevin Williams and isn't really built to play nose tackle. He might play the three technique while Williams gets time at nose tackle. I anticipate he will get time all along the defensive line, and he could be very productive. In limited time last season, he totaled 13 tackles primarily at the nose tackle.
While he doesn't have great strength, he knows how to use what he has well and can clog some lanes. He has great quickness for his size and knows how to use his hands and feet well in the pass rush.
Predicted winner: Guion
This position will effectively be run by a committee of the three players listed, with Everson Griffen in the mix.
Guion gets listed as the starter because he is the most prototypical nose tackle, but it will be pretty equal in terms of playing time to make sure everyone stays rested, which should help prevent the fourth quarter letdowns the team consistently had last season.