Minnesota Vikings: Highlighting the Upcoming Battles at Training Camp
Now that we're back from the holiday, we're also back to breaking down the best battles in the upcoming training camps. It's easy to say the biggest battle will be Adrian Peterson versus his knee. However, Peterson could spend much of his time resting his knee in training camp. And even if that were the most intriguing battle, an article about it would be pretty boring.
As with the Packers, the real action is in the secondary, because in a division which throws so much, defensive backs are vital, especially with a young quarterback and some unproven wide relievers.
So we will be looking in the secondary for our battle royale—specifically safety.
Keep an eye on rookie Harrison Smith vs. Mistral Raymond vs. Jamarca Sanford for your action this July.
Harrison Smith - The Young Up and Comer
You know the Vikings like him because they moved up to get him. I will continue to say that this was unnecessary—the Niners, Bucs, Giants, Rams, Colts, Ravens (clearly as they traded out with the Vikes) nor even the Broncos (who were lurking and traded back) were unlikely to have grabbed him.
Still, I also say when you see a guy, go get a guy. They wanted him, they got him and in three years we probably won't even remember the trade for the pick if he's good.
There's every chance he is good by the way. While not someone I pegged as a first round pick quality safety, Smith was a versatile and productive player for Notre Dame. He played both linebacker and safety, but safety was where he really shined.
He showed great leadership and the ability to easily communicate to the rest of his unit. He can play all over, and while he lacks the hands of a playmaker, he makes up for it with tremendous tackling ability.
If he has even a decent camp, I would imagine some large chunks of playing time come September.
Mistral Raymond - Mr. Perseverance
Raymond is a tremendously hard working player, one who has overcome great adversity in his journey to the NFL. Hard work can only do so much though, and it is uncertain if Raymond has the talent to be a starter in the NFL. He played well, but not great in his first year with the team, and he got starter reps in minicamp.
He's got good size, decent speed and is a willing tackler who can defend the run effectively as well as the pass. Raymond doesn't exactly stand out the way a guy like Smith might, but he could be a good grinder who can play better than expected.
Is that a guarantee of anything? No. But Raymond seems to know that better than anyone, given what he has overcome to get this far.
More than anything, he will need to prove he isn't prone to giving up big plays—given the penchant for our final combatant to be a liability in pass coverage, Raymond certainly has a shot.
Jamarca Sanford - The Odd Man Out?
In his first full year as starter, Sanford did a decent job tackling and supporting the run defense but negatively impacted the pass defense too often. While it is, in many cases, not as bad to have a safety who is poor in pass coverage than at the cornerback spot, you'd rather not have to settle.
With Smith, Raymond and some other players who could emerge in camp, the Vikings won't have to settle. So Sanford needs to show improvement against the pass.
As I said earlier, in a conference, division and league which throws the ball so often you sometimes think it's illegal to run, you have to have strong secondary coverage. That was a problem for the Vikings.
Last year, Sanford was not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
To be fair, there were other issues in the secondary—but this year it's put up or shut up time.
Put me in the column that says Smith begins the year as one of the starting safeties. Does he need some work? Yes. But he's an obvious upgrade over what is there now, so unless he's an absolute disaster—and he won't be—he'll be in the lineup.
Who else will be playing safety? Well, I like to give Sanford the benefit of the doubt, but ultimately Raymond is the guy I expect to win out at the other safety spot. Sanford is smaller and less reliable in coverage. It would be wise to keep him around though, because he may yet turn it around and you can never have too much depth.
He's going to have to really improve to hang around though, even as depth.
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