Updating the Vikings' Biggest Training Camp Battles to Watch for
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It's time for the rubber to meet the road when the Minnesota Vikings open their 47th training camp at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Camp officially opens on Thursday with player check-in, and things get cranking on Friday with the first two-a-day practice.
It's time to put on the pads and do some real hitting as head coach Leslie Frazier, and the rest of the Vikings coaching staff, whittle down the roster from 90 players to 53.
With just over a little more than five weeks, the battles will be fierce to establish the pecking order on the depth chart, as well as whose bubbles pop, and who hangs on for one of the final roster spots.
In the midst of rebuilding, the Vikings enter camp with a young roster. Only eight of 90 players are 30 years old or older. That means there will be plenty of roster spots to be contested.
Here's another look at some of the biggest battles to be waged to secure a roster spot on the Minnesota Vikings.
Battle for the Backup Running Back
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This may not be the sexiest battle in camp, but it could have huge implications for the Vikings.
After all, hopefully, the winner earns the right to sit on the bench a good portion of the season. In the last two years as the Vikings' third running back, Lorenzo Booker only ran the ball 13 times.
Of course, with Adrian Peterson recovering from major reconstructive knee surgery, the third running back will see more action relieving Toby Gerhart, until the Vikings are ready to give Peterson a full workload.
The Vikings' training camp roster only lists five running backs. That means for now the battle is between Lex Hilliard, Jordan Todman and Derrick Coleman.
As the only running back with NFL experience, Hilliard enters camp as the favorite—but not by much.
A sixth-round draft choice of the Dolphins in 2008, Hilliard only had 39 carries for 130 yards in three seasons at Miami.
The Vikings signed Todman off the Chargers' practice squad on December 28, four days after Peterson's injury. The Chargers' sixth-round draft pick in 2011, Todman has yet to carry the ball in an NFL regular season game.
Coleman has the advantage of knowing how to serve as a backup. In his four years at UCLA, he finished second on the team in rushing every year. As a freshman in 2008, he finished second on the team behind senior Kahlil Bell.
Like Coleman, the Vikings signed Bell as a rookie free agent. After being waived by the Vikings, Bell signed with the Bears.
As a sophomore, Coleman found himself behind freshman Johnathan Franklin. For the last three seasons, Franklin has led the Bruins in rushing yards, while Coleman has been second. Coleman finished his collegiate career with 1,780 yards on 341 carries for a decent 5.2-yard average.
The Vikings will be keeping a close eye on the waiver wire, so don't be surprised if the winner of this battle isn't even on the roster yet.
Blair Walsh vs. Blair Walsh
Blair Walsh has been handed the Minnesota Vikings kicking job.
Technically there is no competition but, as is always the case for an NFL kicker, an open competition can be assembled in a matter of minutes.
The only way Walsh loses the job is if he gets the yips that affect all kickers and golfers at some point in their career.
It's rare for a kicker to be drafted. Since 2000, only 31 kickers have been drafted—including four taken this season, the most drafted since 1993 when five kickers were drafted.
Since 2006, 12 kickers have been drafted. Two of them never made it to the regular season and another two lasted less than three games. Two were converted to punters, one is currently a free-agent kick-off specialist. That leaves five still active in the NFL kicking field goals.
One of the best has been Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots fourth-round pick from 2006. In his six seasons, Gostkowski has converted 84.4 percent of his attempts. In four years at the University of Memphis he was 70 of 92 in field goals—76.1 percent.
My concern is that Walsh, who made 73.8 percent of his field goals at Georgia, is replacing veteran Ryan Longwell. In six seasons with the Vikings, Longwell completed 86 percent of his field goals.
Walsh brings a strong leg that should improve the number of touchbacks, an area where Longwell struggled, finishing 28th in the league with only 19 of them.
Battle for Backup Linebacker: Everson Griffen vs. Solomon Elimimian
This could really develop into an interesting battle.
Everson Griffen has been a man without a position. While mostly used as a backup to Jared Allen and Brian Robison at defensive end, the Vikings have tried him at linebacker and even as gunner on the punt coverage.
With the team so thin at linebacker, the Vikings are giving Griffen another look, and he will report to camp as a linebacker.
In four years at the University of Hawaii Solomon, Elimimian averaged 108.5 tackles per season. After going undrafted in 2009, he was invited to the Buffalo Bills during training camp, but was released after the second preseason game.
He spent the last two season playing for the British Columbia Lions of the CFL. In 2010 he was named the league's Most Outstanding Rookie and last season as the leagues hardest hitter, according to a player poll conducted by the Canadian cable channel TSN.
On the surface this one looks like a mismatch, with Griffen getting the nod, but stranger things have happened. Don't be surprised if Elimimian turns some heads this preseason.
If Griffen can make the transition to linebacker, he will win this battle—and might even challenge to make the starting lineup.
Wide Receiver Jerome Simpson vs. the Field
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The Vikings have a desperate need for an outside receiver, and former Bengals wideout Jerome Simpson comes into camp on the top of the depth chart. Last season, as the Bengals' No. 2 receiver, Simpson caught 50 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns.
It's only fitting that Simpson joins the Vikings, especially after his arrest for marijuana trafficking. The Vikings lead the NFL with the most player arrests since 2000.
Simpson comes into training camp as one of 12 wide receivers on the roster.
With Percy Harvin locked in as the team's slot receiver, his main competition will come from Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Greg Childs.
Emmanuel Arceneaux and Stephen Burton are long shots to claim the role. Combined, they only had three catches last season in seven games they were active.
The only disadvantage for Simpson is the three-game suspension he needs to serve opening the season. If any of the receivers can take advantage of the situation and use the extra playing time to establish themselves, it could make for an interesting return for Simpson come Week 4.
Jenkins returns for his ninth season after missing five games last year with a torn meniscus. Never a true No. 1 receiver, from 2007 to 2009 while with the Falcons, he had consecutive seasons with 50 catches, but never amassed more than 777 receiving yards.
The Vikings are the sixth team for Aromashodu since being drafted by Miami in the seventh round in 2006. He bounced from the Dolphins to the Colts, Texans and Redskins before seeing significant playing time with the Bears in 2009.
His best single-game performance came against the Vikings on Monday night in Chicago during the 2009 season. Minnesota is waiting for the receiver who had the seven-catch, 150-yard performance with a game-winning touchdown, to show up.
While last season was his best so far as a pro, Aromoashodu was last in the league with only a 33 percent catch rate on balls targeted for him. This has got to be his last chance to make it in the NFL.
That leaves rookie Childs to step up and claim the role. He will need to prove that he is completely recovered from the injury that dogged him the last two years at Arkansas.
Battle to Start at Cornerback: Antoine Winfield vs. Chris Carr and Zack Bowman
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At 35, Antoine Winfield is the oldest player on the Vikings' roster. It doesn't help that he is coming off a season limited to five games after suffering a broken collarbone.
This is one of the biggest areas of concern for the Vikings. To address that concern, they have thrown just about everything they can at the position.
There are 11 defensive backs on the Vikings' roster, not counting the six safeties.
The Vikings signed veteran free agents, Chris Carr and Zack Bowman.
They drafted Josh Robinson out of Central Florida in the third round, and added a couple of rookie free agents.
The competition to be the second starting cornerback opposite Chris Cook will come down to Winfield, Carr and Bowman.
Bowman, the Bears' fifth-round pick in 2008, led the Bears with six interceptions in 2009 when he started 12 games. Since then his play has diminished, and he only started one game for Chicago last season.
Carr has the most experience having played in 103 games over seven seasons. In 2010, he started all 16 games for the Ravens. Last year a recurring hamstring injury limited him to seven games.
Because of his experience, Carr will win a starting role with Winfield being the nickel corner covering the slot receiver.
The Battle to Be the Backup Cornerback
After losing the battle to Chris Carr, Zack Bowman will find another battle on his hands with rookie Josh Robinson to be the fourth cornerback.
According to NFL.com, Robinson graded out as the 12th-best corner in the draft. When the Vikings selected the Central Florida junior with the third pick in the third round, Robinson was the seventh cornerback taken.
In three years at Central Florida, he averaged 59 tackles per year and totaled 10 interceptions
In a weird coincidence, six of Robinson's interceptions came in his freshman season of 2009—the same year Bowman led the Bears with six interceptions in Chicago. The difference since 2009 is that Robinson has had four more interceptions, while Bowman has been shutout.
This battle will be close. With Robinson also getting a shot to return punts he could have the edge.
The Battle for Fullback: Ryan D'Imperio vs. Rhett Ellison vs. Jerome Felton
This is the battle between the rookie, the converted linebacker and the four-year veteran playing on his fourth team in three years.
The Vikings shocked a lot of people when they selected Rhett Ellison in the fourth round, including Ellison himself. Not projected to even being drafted, the Vikings liken his ability to the recently retired Jim Kleinsasser.
Ryan D'Imperio was drafted by the Vikings as a linebacker out of Rutgers in the seventh round of the 2010 draft. They converted him to fullback and he has spent his rookie season on the practice squad. Last year he was activated for 12 games.
Perhaps Jerome Felton just wanted to prove he belonged in Minnesota after being arrested on suspicion of being intoxicated while sitting in a McDonald's drive through.
For Felton, who the Vikings signed in March, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 2008, where he played for three seasons. After being released by Detroit on August 30, he was claimed by the Panthers three days later where he played in nine games.
Carolina waived him on November 25 and the Vikings tried to claim him at that point, but the Colts were awarded him on November 28. After the season he was released by the Colts.
The Vikings signed him in March this year, making the Vikings his fourth team within a year.
The only advantage Felton has is his experience in the NFL, having played in 56 games over four years.
D'Imperio has the advantage of being with the Vikings for an entire year learning the Vikings' offense.
However, the advantage goes to Ellison who has the ability to play either tight end, fullback or H-back.
The Battle for No. 1: Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson
The battle is between two former Notre Dame tight ends selected in the second round.
In yet another surprise move, the Vikings signed free agent tight end John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract. What makes the move so surprising is the amount of money and the length for a player who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
Along with Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' second-round pick from 2011, it gives the team two solid pass-catching tight ends.
Comparing their numbers at Notre Dame, Carlson, in over four seasons (2004-2007), caught 100 passes for 1,093 yards and eight touchdowns.
Rudolph, who declared for the NFL draft after his junior season, caught 90 passes in three seasons (2008 - 2010) for 1,032 and also had eight touchdowns.
As rookies in the NFL, Carlson gets the nod as he caught 55 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns in 2008.
Last season Rudolph would displace Visanthe Shiancoe as the starting tight end, making eight starts. He finished with only 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
Carlson has more NFL experience, but this will be Rudolph's second year with the Vikings and working with quarterback Christian Ponder.
In the end it may not matter, as the Vikings will employ plenty of two tight end sets, and this battle could rage for the entire season.
The Battle to Be the Primary Punt Returner
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Last season Marcus Sherels did the improbable. He made the Vikings team in 2011 as an undrafted free agent.
The University of Minnesota cornerback spent most of the 2010 season on the Vikings' practice squad. In 2011 he made the Vikings as a special teams player and punt returner.
He returned 33 punts for an 8.4-yard average and 16 kickoffs for 27.8-yard average.
Due to injuries in the secondary, the Vikings were forced to use Sherels on defense where he also made three starts late in the season.
Now he will have another battle on his hands. According to a Tweet from Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press, Sherels will be battling with rookies Jarius Wright and Josh Robinson for the punt returner job during training camp.
Comparing their collegiate numbers, Robinson has the advantage with 27 returns for 355 yards, followed by Sherels with 17 for 213 yards, then Wright with only eight for 47 yards.
If it comes down to numbers, then Sherels is the odd man out.
Robinson wins the job as punt returner and backup cornerback, and Wright becomes the Vikings primary kick returner and backs up Percy Harvin as the slot receiver.
Battle of the Razorbacks: Greg Childs vs. Jarius Wright
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Sure, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright are competing at slightly different positions—and have their battles to fight as previously outlined—but there is no doubt a battle is raging between these two to see who gets more snaps.
It will be a friendly battle.
Wright and Childs not only played at Arkansas together, but they were also teammates at Warren High School in Warren, Ark.
During their time at Arkansas, both receivers led the team in receptions and touchdowns in a season. While an injury in his junior year slowed down Childs his last two seasons, Wright excelled and led the Razorbacks with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns—the highest totals for any Arkansas receiver from 2008 to 2011.
Look for these two teammates to push and support each other as they progress to the next level.
With the Jerome Simpson opening the season with a three-game suspension, Childs has the early advantage over Wright.
Mistral Raymond vs. Robert Blanton
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There is a battle to be waged for one of the starting safeties for the Minnesota Vikings.
That battle is not between Harrison Smith, who the Vikings traded up from their second-round pick to select with the 29th pick in the first round, and Mistral Raymond.
The battle is between Raymond, one of the Vikings' sixth-round picks from 2011, and rookie Robert Blanton, this year's fifth-round selection.
Raymond is the favorite in this battle.
He has the benefit of playing in the Vikings system for a year and made five starts late in the season.
Blanton also has the disadvantage of making a position change from college, where he played cornerback, to safety in the NFL.
In three years at University of South Florida, Raymond finished with only two interceptions.
In four years as Notre Dame, Blanton intercepted two passes every season, finishing with eight.
Either way, the Vikings have to come out a winner after giving up an NFL-worst 34 touchdowns passes last season.
Matt Kalil vs. Jared Allen
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This battle, while it has little implications on the roles of either player, will be a good one to watch during training camp.
Jared Allen has already laid down the law with Matt Kalil, the Vikings' rookie lineman.
In an interview with on NBCSportsTalk, Allen, in his typical style, didn't mince word.
“Just don’t touch me,” Allen said. “I’m too old to deal with overzealous rookies right now. Keep your hands out of my face, don’t grab my jersey and we won’t have to fist fight. That’s pretty much what it is.”
It will be a good test for Kalil to measure how close he is to being NFL-ready. He will not face a better defensive end the rest of the season.
Without a doubt, Allen wins this battle, but Kalil will be better for it.