Vikings training camp begins July 26th, and I couldn't be more excited. I wrote earlier about the best training camp battles that Vikings fans can expect to see this year, but now I want to take you in another direction.
These are three under the radar players who will be worth noting at this years camp in Mankato. They might not have a significant impact this season, but they could develop into the missing piece in a year or two, and are worth keeping an eye on.
Undrafted Rookie Ernest Owusu
Not being invited to the combine must have really ticked him off, because he came back with a vengeance at Cal's pro day. His 39 bench press reps would have been tops in Indianapolis this year for defensive end, including former Cal teammate and Vikings' seventh-round pick Trevor Guyton.
It also would have been third of all participants, behind only offensive lineman David Molk and combine star Dontari Poe.
He also ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, which would have been fifth for all defensive lineman. He is extremely athletic, and showed he was a good player in college as well. He posted 30 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a defensive end in a 3-4 system.
And good news, he has the size to play in a 4-3, being 6'4'' and weighing 277 pounds.
He is a very strong player that uses his strength well. He has the potential to be a spot pass-rusher, possibly replacing what Everson Griffen has been for the team for the past few seasons.
NFL.com reports say Griffen is moving to linebacker. While not quite as athletic as Griffen, he has the motor that Griffen lacked coming out of college, which can help make all the difference. Just ask their teammate Jared Allen. His motor never quits, and that has helped him become one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL.
Undrafted Rookie Bobby Felder
The defensive backs were such a weakness last season for the team, and the starters aren't guaranteed.
Enter Bobby Felder.
He played corner in college at Nicholls State, and showed he knew how to play the position. He went unnoticed during the draft, and some experts have compared him to former Nicholls State standout and current Baltimore Raven Ladarius Webb—both talented players who dropped because of playing for a smaller school.
Felder has great size to play the position, and knows how to play physical with the receivers. He attacks the ball rather than the player, which helped him get 12 interceptions during his collegiate career. He displayed a ball hawking mentality at corner, which should help him translate to the NFL better than most undrafted players.
He is able to get his hands on a lot of passes, and he has the soft hands to catch quite a few of them. He is a playmaker once the ball is in his hands as well, being a great punt returner for the Colonels.
He has great size for a corner, standing at 6'1'' and weighing 200 pounds. He has a very physical style of play, and could develop into a legitimate starter in the NFL. Potentially even becoming the steal of the 2012 undrafted class.
Third-Year Player Tyrone McKenzie
McKenzie was a third-round draft pick back in 2009 for the New England Patriots. He was showing promise before a torn ACL cost him his rookie season. He was placed on the Patriots practice squad the following season, not looking like the same player.
He was cut shortly after, but signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad. He got called up for a few games in 2010, recording his only three tackles, but was cut after the season.
The Vikings signed him last September to their practice squad, and with the inexperience at the linebacker position, he has been getting some looks. This is likely the last shot for a guy who showed so much promise during his college career at three different programs.
That rarity is a story of its own, but it goes to show that he is an intelligent player who can pick up new systems quickly (ESPN). That intelligence may be his best weapon if he can't return to the physical form that he demonstrated in college.
With limited time in the NFL, I had to refer back to how he performed in college. He proved he was a great tackler, producing over 100 tackles all three years he was a starter. He showed he was extremely agile, and played all out between the whistles. He also had a knack for forcing fumbles, and was always a great character guy.
He isn't the fastest, and is slightly undersized, but the potential is there. People have been known to take a long time before becoming productive in the past—just look at Cris Carter. McKenzie hopes to make the roster as a special teams player to eventually earn his shot, much like current starter Erin Henderson.