Minnesota Vikings: Predicting the 53-Man Roster Before Training Camp
With the 2012 Minnesota Vikings training camp just starting, fans are eagerly anticipating an end to the drought of NFL news that plagues the lull between minicamp and the preseason. While player stock is expected to rise and fall over the course of camp, no prediction ever seems too early for prognosticators.
The Vikings have been giving strong indications about how their roster might be shaping up, and fans should be able to take advantage of the bevy of information available about roster developments and the talents of even the least notable of undrafted free agents.
The next several slides will take a look at the roster, position by position, and evaluate which players will secure a spot on the rosters and which rising stars may be invited to the Vikings' practice squad.
Quarterbacks and Special Teams
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
Going into camp, there isn't an extraordinary amount of controversy regarding the quarterbacks or specialists. While some fans might rather see Webb than Ponder, it's clear that Christian Ponder will remain the starting quarterback.
QB: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels
While McLeod Bethel-Thompson has been receiving some positive reviews—he's the strongest arm in the camp—all indications are that the Vikings want to have a veteran presence in the locker room and on the sideline as the third QB. While Rosenfels hasn't thrown an NFL pass since 2008, he's valuable both as a mentor to Webb and Ponder and as the scout team quarterback, allowing the Vikings' defense to prepare for each game.
It seems unlikely that Bethel-Thompson will survive waivers given the small buzz he's been receiving, but he's definitely a practice squad target for the Vikings. Bethel-Thompson was on two practice squads before this, having thrown for the 49ers and the Dolphins previously. He also started two games for the Sacramento Mountain Lions.
McLeod may be able to stave off Rosenfels for the third quarterback job, but he'll need to show significant improvement in his touch, decision making and defensive-play reading—all uphill battles for him at this point.
K: Blair Walsh; LS: Cullen Loeffler; P: Chris Kluwe
The NFL's longest-lasting trio of specialists was broken up when Ryan Longwell was cut before minicamps, and the Vikings are placing their faith in Blair Walsh as their kicker for the very near future. Mike Priefer, special teams coach, believes he's figured out how to correct Walsh's accuracy issues his senior year, too.
Apparently, Walsh was rushing his kicks by two or three tenths of a second. Priefer knows what he's talking about, and this change in Walsh's kicking may resolve the accuracy concerns fans have going into the year.
Halfbacks and Fullbacks
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The Vikings have one of the strongest running corps in the NFL, and Adrian Peterson is the biggest reason why. His health may determine the future of the organization, as offensive playcalling might have to change without the superstar forcing defenders into the box.
Peterson is expected to start Week 1, but fans are prepared to see stellar backup Toby Gerhart shoulder much of the burden in the running game early in the season.
HB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman
Caleb King would have the best chance at the third spot had he not spent time in jail for allegedly assaulting another man outside a night club early in the offseason.
As it is, Todman may have the best opportunity at making this spot over Lex Hilliard and undrafted free agent Derrick Coleman. Todman is typical for what the Vikings have had in this slot, given his quick speed and ability to turn the corner.
Hilliard is more of a power back and would not represent the type of change-of-pace back that the Vikings have historically valued at this position. Hilliard's special teams ability might allow him to take place of Todman, however, particularly given that Todman is not likely to spend much time as a kick returner—his best asset on special teams.
Matt Asiata will need to showcase his strength in order to make the roster. His speed is not great, but he is good at pass-blocking, especially in blitz pickup. He's willing to engage in unselfish play and does so enthusiastically, which might translate into good special teams play as well.
He lacks NFL-level speed and also exhibits a need for greater lateral agility. While patient, he can't take too much advantage of how a play develops because of his poor cutting ability.
If he transitions to fullback, he will need to improve his blocking form—he doesn't always stick his man on the play, and throws his shoulder into defenders.
His biggest concern, however, is his knee. He injured it in 2009, and seemed to have permanently lost some speed. If knee issues flare up, he might be the first cut from camp.
In either position, he has shown himself as a capable pass-catcher and runs OK routes out of the backfield. This might increase his stock as a fullback prospect but likely not enough to earn a practice-squad invite.
Derrick Coleman will need a very impressive camp to make the practice squad, much less the full roster. Like Asiata, he focuses on his power running, taking advantage of his strength to break tackles. With strength both in the upper body and lower body, Coleman will hope to take advantage of his ability to keep the pile churning, but he needs to improve on his agility.
When running lanes become smaller, he struggles both at making the correct decision—important in the Vikings' zone-read scheme—and at maintaining his balance through those holes.
His biggest problem is his speed, where he'll need to overcome the perception that his low acceleration and burst will make it difficult for him to hit the line. His long-running speed isn't much better either and can only hope to see time as a third-down back. He also may see time as a fullback (which would take advantage of his assets), but he hasn't had much experience as a lead blocker.
Coleman likely won't make that transition, as he hasn't made any moves towards it yet and also had an unimpressive offseason.
FB: Jerome Felton
The Vikings have liked Felton for a while and kept him on despite his DWI. While it is possible that D'Imperio makes the squad because of his special teams ability, all indications are that Felton is a fine player during kicks and punts, and D'Imperio would need to impress quite a bit to take the veteran off the roster.
Felton has done well both as a lead blocker in the NFL and as a pass protector, while D'Imperio has been found wanting in both respects.
If D'Imperio shows significant improvement, he may be able to retain his job, but it seems unlikely at the moment.
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The Vikings have already begun a shift to a more tight end-heavy offense and have indicated that they are willing to put a number of two-tight-end sets on the field, possibly running those sets as their base offense. Tight end may be one of the most important positions for the Vikings to develop as the offseason progresses.
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Allen Reisner
It's entirely possible—indeed, probable—that the Vikings keep four tight ends on their roster. Keeping Ellison will allow the Vikings to run a wider variety of tight end formations, while also giving them more depth at fullback.
The battle for the fourth spot is the most intriguing, however. Reisner and Shuler are both surprise performers for the Vikings, and have outperformed their initial expectations in the offseason.
Reisner, an undrafted free agent, has shown surprising pass-catching ability and has developed a bit more chemistry with Ponder over the course of last season. His activation off of the practice squad has provided the Vikings with surprising depth at the position.
Mickey Shuler was a seventh-round draft pick for the Vikings and made the 53-man roster, but was eventually cut before being picked up by the Dolphins. The Vikings signed him on as a free agent after his first year, and he worked his way onto the active roster.
Replacing Shiancoe and Kleinsasser will be a big burden, and both were good pass-blockers. The battle here might revolve around blocking ability more than catching ability, and both Reisner and Shuler seem to have similar aptitude in this area.
Reisner seems to have more experience picking up blitzes and has a larger history with the Vikings' blocking scheme, so he remains the tentative favorite for now.
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The Vikings, while not making any splash moves, have certainly added depth to their receiver corps. There's a solid mix of veterans and rookies, with a wide range of experience in between.
While the focus for many commentators is to find wide receivers that best enable Percy Harvin's playmaking ability, the Vikings have been focusing on creating a corps that has capability in a number of contexts and have been targeting players that can fulfill a variety of roles.
WR: Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Stephen Burton, Devin Aromashodu
Expect Aromashodu to be cut after Simpson serves his suspension. Michael Jenkins is owed five million dollars over the next two years, and the Vikings will owe him a roster bonus if he starts Week 1. Unless Jenkins can show separation and create matchup problems—something he struggled with near the end of the season and during OTAs—he won't make the roster.
Jenkins best performs as a possession receiver, running intermediate routes that tend to dig inwards. He's a reliable pass-catcher but does not have the other necessary qualities that would justify his salary. That, and his status as an aging veteran on a team that looks to become more youthful, will guarantee his early exit from the roster.
Aromashodu and Simpson will run similar routes, although Simpson is much more reliable with the ball in the air. Both can create separation, but Simpson is a more intuitive route runner with a feel for gaps in zone coverage.
Unless Devin shows good hands in the preseason games, he doesn't have a stable roster spot.
Greg Childs may be a surprise roster cut unless he can stay healthy, which he hasn't been able to do so far. Still, it's a long shot—the Vikings will likely stay with their fourth-round picks even if Childs needs to go on Injured Reserve (which is also unlikely). Childs' spot is relatively safe, but there are no guarantees in the NFL.
Neither Childs nor Wright should be expected to make big contributions right away and have quite a bit to learn before having an impact on the NFL level. Nevertheless, Childs is perceived to be the field-stretcher and fill in for Simpson's role in the long run and may find himself starting in the first game if he's healthy.
Jarius Wright has been bandied about as a Percy Harvin-lite, although his skill set seems to match that of a good possession receiver that can make a good impact as an outside threat and runs crisp routes. His height and weight project slot responsibilities, and Wright may see his role change over the course of the offseason.
Stephen Burton has been impressing sportswriters and players alike with a solid offseason and figures to continue with that performance into training camp. Burton is a more physical player than he looks and shouldn't have too much trouble bringing his good form into contact-heavy practices.
His route-running and his reliability with the ball in the air have both improved dramatically, and took over for Harvin successfully in practices during OTAs and minicamps.
After Harvin's trade kerfuffle was seemingly resolved, there wasn't much question that Percy will start for the Vikings and will continue to provide the dynamic threat he has shown since his rookie year. More comfortable in the slot than anywhere else, Harvin will likely see himself splitting flanker duties with other receivers over the course of the season.
Emmanuel Arceneaux has been exciting fans as well, but unfortunately will likely not make the roster. While he clearly has more skill than fellow practice squad player Kerry Taylor, he still hasn't improved at a pace that would allow him to take a spot from any of the other players at wide receiver.
Arceneaux has more skill than most practice squad players, however, and if he doesn't make the cut on the regular roster, fans shouldn't be too surprised if he doesn't survive waivers long enough to make the practice squad one more time.
Emmanuel needed to do more in his three games on the field, and only has one reception to his name. He has some issues with his release and route running, despite his good size and speed. The CFL standout can't create as much separation as he would like, and therefore can't take advantage of his reliability with the ball in the air.
He needs to adjust to the ball a little better in order to generate more yards after the catch, but this is the least of his issues. Arceneaux, first and foremost, needs to develop a strong release off the snap if he expects to make the squad. As it is, expect another practice squad invite. He might be claimed off of waivers, but he likely won't make the Vikings' 53-man roster.
Kamar Jorden, A.J. Love, Kerry Taylor and Bryan Walters all have their own talents but haven't made waves in the offseason so far.
While Walters has appeared in three NFL games, he doesn't present much of a threat to make the roster over the other receivers. Generally good in the preseason, he tends to struggle with the added element of pressure and physical play.
He needs to improve his route running but has OK hands. He can make an impact and create separation but will sometimes struggle against stronger cornerbacks and cannot always release well. A practice squad prospect, Walters shows room for improvement.
Kerry Taylor is fast and had been on the Vikings' practice squad before this offseason started. Unfortunately, some of his speed is obviated by his poor release and an inability to step off the line quickly. He needs some work as a route runner but is much better at running routes than the other undrafted free agents.
Taylor needs acceleration to take advantage of his long running speed and will otherwise likely not make the practice squad again.
Kamar Jorden and A.J. Love are undrafted free agents. Love had excellent production at the University of South Florida, but never looked to be the same receiver after he tore his ACL.
In his sixth year (he was granted an additional year of eligibility due to missing a season from injury), he only pulled in nine receptions. His camp call is due to his past performance more than anything else, and he will need to overcome a very poor senior year.
If he shows the type of improvement that points towards steady growth, he could make the practice squad—his impressive junior year gives him a slightly lower bar than the other undrafted players.
Jorden has reliable hands and can certainly take a hit but has struggled with separation in the unheralded MAC. While he can sell fake routes, his athleticism is generally a little wanting. He hasn't displayed an extraordinary ability in finding soft coverage gaps in zones but does better against zone coverage than against man coverage.
If Jorden can manufacture separation and take advantage of his body control, he is a candidate for the practice squad.
Jorden, Love, Taylor and Walters will all have to make significant special teams contributions in order to make the roster. Expect the best of these four to make the practice squad.
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Many fans have placed much of the blame for the poor Vikings' season on the offensive line. There's a lot to be said about an offensive line that needed improvement, and the Vikings feel they have done well by drafting Matt Kalil fourth overall.
Charlie Johnson remains on the roster but will be filling Steve Hutchinson' big shoes. Sullivan is expected to continue being a top-flight center, and the right side of the line is a little more up for grabs.
OL: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger, Patrick Brown, DeMarcus Love
There shouldn't be any surprises at left tackle, center or left guard.
Charlie Johnson's good balance, bend and footwork should place him better at guard than at tackle—which was his original position and likely the role he would have played had McKinnie not been cut. Without having to deal with the alley, Johnson should leverage his good footwork in smaller spaces.
Sullivan is a favorite of grading website Pro Football Focus and performed at a level consistent with the flashes of potential he displayed in his first two disappointing years.
Kalil fits the mold of the line well. While not explosive off the line, he can use his excellent frame to blank out most defensive ends and can use good footwork to make sure he can seal blocks at the second level.
Loadholt is perhaps the strongest body at camp and has been disappointing after a strong rookie year. While adequate in pass protection and a liability in the run game in 2010, he flipped switches in 2011, becoming both one of the best run-blockers and worst pass-blockers in the league.
Loadholt will need to improve significantly in order to resolve issues with the line and may very well be subject to surprise demotion come the first week of the regular season.
Fusco has taken most of the first-team snaps at right guard while Schwartz continues to improve on his conditioning. Fusco plays with a high motor but still has technique work to do. The Vikings value chemistry, and Fusco might get more snaps over the course of camp than Schwartz simply because Fusco has had a better chance of doing offseason work.
Schwartz, Berger, and Love all represent versatility on the line and could give the Vikings quite a bit of leeway when moving forward with the season.
Berger played well in his short time as a center last year and even impressed a little as a guard. He misses the cut as a starter due to projected improvements in Fusco's game as well as his age. He'll be the primary backup for Sullivan as Fusco has focused more on improving his play as a guard than center.
DeMarcus Love was projected as a late-first-round pick before his knee injury in the Sugar Bowl. He placed on the All-SEC team and played both tackle and guard positions. While never active for the Vikings in 16 games, he does show great potential at either tackle or guard positions, although he plays a bit better outside. The Vikings like his potential and will keep him on the team.
Chris DeGeare, Kevin Murphy, Austin Pasztor, Quentin Saulsberry, Levi Horn and Tyler Holmes are more likely fighting for one or two practice squad spots than a spot on the roster, although DeGeare stands a decent chance of making the roster if the Vikings decide to cut Berger because of his age or there are some serious errors by Love.
DeGeare has all the physical assets necessary for being a good swing guard or tackle but has consistently suffered from mental errors and poor technique. He showed up overweight for camp, and spent most of his time last year on the Vikings practice squad.
Murphy doesn't suffer from the same mental errors, at least as far as his play at Harvard concerns, but he has an extraordinary amount of technique work to engage in. Claimed off of waivers after the Vikings cut Darrion Weems, he apparently has good strength and does possess a solid frame. The Vikings may be looking to add Kevin to the practice squad.
Pasztor has many good, but not great, qualities. He's a better pass-blocker than a road grader, although he did show improvement near the end of his senior year to this effect. Not many are high on his ceiling, but he can play both guard and tackle, so he might get a good shot at a practice squad invite, but it seems unlikely.
Saulsberry needs to show improvement in strength and play to his large frame. He has great footwork and can pull extremely well for a guard. He's currently taking third-team center reps and may need more time to make an impression, particularly in generating burst off the line and uncoiling his hips.
A standout at Mississippi State, Saulsberry was easily overpowered at the line and has to show improvement in the passing and running game. If he does not make the practice squad, he will likely be picked up by another team.
Levi Horn was signed from the Bears after they cut him for failing a physical. He spent most of his two-year stint with them on the practice squad and can play either the guard or tackle position.
His biggest knock is his low weight and poor strength, and that might be enough to keep him off the practice squad for now. He does possess good length, and that may be his saving grace.
Tyler Holmes should play guard more than tackle with his length and has issues maintaining position against strength. While he has good burst and first step in the running game, he can get overpowered easily.
Probably undersized, he'll need to do more to impress. He has issues generating leverage after the first second of the snap, but he has great placement and knows where he needs to be. The fact that he's a better fit for zone schemes than anything else means that he stands a shot, but he likely won't make the practice squad.
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The Vikings have long relied on generating a good pass rush from the front four in their Tampa-2 scheme. They've historically had a good defensive line, and last year was no exception. Despite the youth movement in the front office and the roster, the Vikings will be looking to retain their experience and veterans here.
The defensive line corps going into camp is deep, if not necessarily talented at every spot. While the Vikings are well known for their defensive ends, there is also concern that undertackle Kevin Williams is fading. The nose tackle position is clearly the biggest concern, and the Vikings may be looking to address this position in the next draft.
DL: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Trevor Guyton, D'Aundre Reed.
There aren't too many surprises here, although Everson Griffen acting as a backup linebacker and backup end will provide flexibility in roster selection. Don't be too shocked if the Vikings pick 10 defensive linemen and five linebackers, for example.
Many people may think of Griffen as a linebacker given all of his recent buzz, but expect him to play a significant number of downs with his hands to the ground as well.
Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are mainstays along the line and should expect to keep their jobs. Griffen's training as a situational linebacker all but guarantees Robison's spot on the roster as well.
Letroy Guion is projected to start at nose tackle, but if Fred Evans resolves consistency problems with his play, he might supplant Guion's spot on the starting lineup. Guion has good strength for his size and matches that with a decent bull rush.
While he's undersized (a common theme, as you'll see below), he has a good motor and will play to the whistle. His great first step complements his handwork, and he can move offensive linemen backwards.
Unfortunately, he still has some focus problems, and there are marked differences between his best games and his worst games. He'll also have trouble reading the play and will not always funnel the running back in the right direction.
He has some limited upside, but there are very specific places he can improve. If he adds to his menu of rushing moves and maintains his improvement in lateral release, he shouldn't have much of a problem holding Fred Evans off the 1-technique spot in the lineup.
Fred Evans has done a better job penetrating from the 1-technique position than Guion has in the past but cannot consistently perform at that level. Strong and fast, he should do well in the NFL, but he's never made a long-lasting impact because he can't always turn the switch on.
He's a viable threat at nose if all gears are turning but will more often fall behind on a veritable checklist of issues. Sometimes he needs to work on his lower body work at the hips, while at other times he'll display weakness with his hands.
Generally better at reading the play than Guion, he still won't see significant action outside of rotational work until he can improve his consistency—something he hasn't done in his five years in the NFL.
Christian Ballard has lined up at nearly every defensive line position for the Vikings but is best as a defensive end. Ballard reads plays much better than any other backup on the squad but is also marred by consistency issues. He's generally a good weight, but his height—6'5"—would allow him to add more without sacrificing too much speed.
This might be important for him because his biggest weakness is his strength relative to offensive lineman. While he has good technique, particularly with his hands, he can get pushed around in the run game. He has very little trouble tackling ballcarriers, however.
Trevor Guyton is quite a bit different than most of the other rookies at camp, in that he has good size and strength, but less athleticism than the Vikings will want from their defensive ends. His strength and size may encourage the Vikings to test his flexibility along the line, and there is a good chance that he will see snaps at every position—playing as a DE in a 3-4 system gives him experience with a wide range of responsibilities.
He may end up outperforming Guion and Evans and end up as the starting nose tackle, although this is unlikely. More likely is that the Vikings will continue to test his rotational strength throughout the season and may end up wanting him to replace a potentially retiring Kevin Williams in 2013 than Letroy Guion or Fred Evans.
Guyton also has misdirection problems but won't let that remove him from making the play as often as many other lineman. He needs to improve his burst off the line but does maintain good leverage and stays low. He has good hands but applies solid technique irregularly.
His biggest weakness as an edge rusher is both his speed around the corner and his closing quickness. Expect him to make the squad, but his position is not guaranteed.
D'Aundre Reed represents more versatility and can play as either a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE. Not great in space, conflicting reports about his play against the run game, but generally positive. He needs to work on strength but not much. Reed has a great frame and playing size for a modern DE in the Vikings system, but he needs more speed.
Like many of the other current backups, he will occasionally bite on misdirections, although he's not often taken out of the play entirely. The Arizona grad has good technique on the bull rush and will want to work more on that in order to specialize.
D'Aundre takes good angles on the ball in pursuit, which will sometimes make up for his speed. The Vikings have been pleased with his improvement and seems to be the second backup end after Griffen.
Reed and Guyton may be the first to go if any of the Vikings' free agents impress, but the Vikings may cut a less impressive linebacker to make room instead.
Tydreke Powell has good size for a defensive tackle and strength to match. He has a high motor, but needs to improve in leverage—he loses out by not keeping his pads low and struggles at the point of attack.
He moves well across the line, giving him the type of speed the Vikings will want to see in an undertackle, but he shows inconsistent burst off the snap. He will generally take good angles to the ball and is good in pursuit. He needs to develop technique with his hands, although he will maintain reach against offensive lineman.
Powell is the largest of the undrafted free agents, and if he can keep leverage or show consistent improvement, he's the best shot out of the UDFAs to make the practice squad.
Nick Reed was a defensive end in college with impressive strength and straight line speed for his size but is still light for the NFL. His best asset is his great motor, but he also shows some good moves off the snap—particularly his spin move.
He doesn't turn the corner around linemen very quickly. The Oregon standout needs to bulk up and get bigger while also doing work to increase agility. Reed is all right in pursuit, but he needs some work taking the correct angle.
The Vikings will want a player with his attitude, but he won't make the roster (and is ineligible for the practice squad) given the depth at DE and his size. He needs to look for a 3-4 team.
Ernest Owusu is a little small but made up for it with consistently hard and driven play. He has good agility and pursuit, with a nose for the ball. Owusu has great burst and good hands but doesn't have the speed off the edge the Vikings will want from their 4-3 edge rushers. He keeps his pads low and will constantly churn his feet but gets pushed around by bigger lineman.
The consensus is that the Cal graduate needs to bulk up, but he does play at a strength that exceeds his size. He shows consistent improvement and may get a practice squad look but will more likely get signed by another team.
Chase Baker could stand to bulk up, but not nearly as much as many of the other UDFAs. As a defensive tackle for the NFL, he'll have strength issues. Tremendous instincts with good technique, he displays quickness off the snap and has a fantastic first step.
Baker is good at moving his feet and his hands and will move along the line of scrimmage to make the play. He knows a variety of pass-rush moves, which should improve his stock. Still, the Boise State tackle gets pushed around by single blockers. If strength issues persist, he won't make the practice squad.
The Vikings like him and have given him the largest signing bonus of all undrafted free agents. If they choose to keep him, it will be as a situational (and reserve) pass-rusher. His status will depend on special teams play, but is still a very long shot to make the practice squad nevertheless.
Jeff Charleston has been a career backup whose fate on the Vikings roster may be more contingent upon rookie performance than his own. Eight sacks in four years of play speaks poorly for him, and he will probably not make the squad, largely because of good depth at defensive end.
The Vikings will more likely want to take a look at intriguing prospects like Owusu or develop D'Aundre Reed more than invest in a one-dimensional pass rusher. While he has speed-rushing capability and good pursuit, he doesn't offer enough to the Vikings to warrant another look.
Anthony Jacobs was originally projected as a 3-4 DE but should see time on the field determining whether or not he best fits as a 3-technique tackle or a 1-technique tackle. Because he is undersized as an interior lineman, it is unlikely that he would line up in the nose. He is athletic and quick but will need to develop a wider range of pass-rushing moves before he can leverage this effectively as a 3-technique tackle.
He is described as having an explosive first step and excellent agility but gets pushed off the line enough that this will cause concerns. The native Minnesotan will need to show serious improvement over the course of camp and take advantage of his speed before he gets a practice squad call.
Eric Latimore is tall but light for his projected role in any 4-3 system. Another 3-4 player out of college, Latimore is more likely to play as a 3-technique tackle than anything else. He doesn't have the speed or penetration one would expected from a defensive end in the Vikings system, but he does have good strength for his size.
Unless he reported to training camp having increased his bulk appreciably, it is unlikely he will make the practice squad. He doesn't exhibit extraordinary burst or a wide variety of pass-rushing moves but does show some raw talent.
His strength is in the run game, but only as someone who can fill a gap. He didn't gather many tackles at Penn State, and he probably won't in the NFL, either.
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Linebacker may be the biggest concern for the Vikings, and they'll be looking for standouts to make the team here. The lack of depth at middle linebacker in particular means that jobs will be awarded to people who do well in training camp more than anything else. As it is, this may be the most interesting battle of camp.
LB: Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Marvin Mitchell, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie
The Vikings are notoriously thin at linebacker, and it's easy to see why. Slated to start is Jasper Brinkley, who has spent much of his time with the Vikings on Injured Reserve and spent much of the time in OTAs and minicamp on the sideline recovering either from a groin injury or the aftereffects of his hip surgery.
When playing, Brinkley was better as a downhill linebacker and may be a liability in pass coverage. While more athletic than some may give him credit for, his ability to backpedal or stay with receivers is a big question mark for the Vikings, especially given the importance of the middle linebacker in their Tampa-2 defensive system.
Brinkley can defend against the run well and has excellent tackling form. He therefore is very unlikely to take snaps in nickel formations.
Chad Greenway has been a very good performer for the Vikings and is a quintessential Sam linebacker. He will need to overcome a poor 2011, however, and improve his coverage capability. Regardless, Greenway is a lock for the Sam linebacker position and won't have to worry.
Erin Henderson is in a somewhat similar situation but still needs to prove he can be a three-down linebacker. Showing significant improvement last season, Henderson is a sure tackler and adequate in coverage. Athletic with an excellent ability to read plays, Henderson is going to start for the Vikings in the Will position.
Marvin Mitchell is perhaps the best special teams player the Vikings have on their roster at the moment and may make the squad based on this ability. He's relatively strong and can read plays well but is merely adequate at a number of other skills and excellent in none of them. He comes in with a huge advantage over any of the other backups with more NFL games to his name at linebacker (71) than the rest of the potential backups combined.
Audie Cole impressed the Vikings during the Senior Bowl and was picked in the seventh round as a reward. He has a good frame but needs to add more weight before competing at the NFL level. He can play at any linebacker spot but is more likely a middle or weak-side linebacker than a strong-side linebacker.
He has OK fluidity in his hips but otherwise has great body control. He will need to spend more time displaying his coverage abilities because this is a strength of his, despite his relatively poor speed. He can redirect his body quickly and will use this in tandem with his high football intelligence to flow to the ball and make the play.
Cole is not stellar in pursuit, as both his speed and poor angle of attack restrict his playmaking ability, but he is a good form tackler. He will want to improve his strength, both to increase his versatility for playing on the strong side and to improve as a pass-rusher.
Tyrone Mackenzie is similar to Brinkley in a number of ways; he's a great run-stuffer with concerns in pass coverage. He exceeds some of Jasper's skills in that he maintains excellent fluidity and can change direction easily. He has a high motor and can read the flow of the play well. McKenzie generally takes good angles and can make plays in space.
His trouble with coverage is in his inability to stay with receivers or turn upfield. While he can jam and reroute receivers well, he doesn't display this ability regularly enough to make a big difference in the passing game. Like Brinkley, he will likely leave the field in nickel situations.
As a pass-rusher, there is still more work to be done in order to be effective, and he could improve both his strength and technique.
Solomon Elimimian is best known as a big hitter and earned honors both as the Canadian Football League's Most Outstanding Rookie and Hardest Hitter in consecutive years.
He can play sideline to sideline (exhibiting this ability on a larger field) and take good angles to the ballcarrier. It's evident that Solomon could still add bulk, but he clearly has excellent strength. While players who hit hard are often criticized for their tackling form, Elimimian is generally good.
Elimimian needs more work in zone coverage and hasn't had too much practice covering receivers in man coverage. In addition, he hasn't moved off of blockers well and would need to be the Will in order to make the biggest difference.
Elimimian's stock may rise when the team engages in more contact but did not make waves in the offseason. There is a very good chance that if he doesn't make the roster, he will make a practice squad.
Tyler Nielsen is an excellent tackler but struggles with many aspects of the game. With a good read on the ball and excellent angles, Nielsen can play running downs as the Will linebacker. Unfortunately, his speed and agility do not translate into the passing game, and he'll lose his receivers in man and zone coverage.
While Nielsen has strength to deal with most blockers, particularly on the outside, he can get blown up by powerful blockers and doesn't do as well against inside runs.
Neilsen's tackling ability cannot be understated, but his liability in coverage, poor ability to jam receivers and less-than-stellar pass-rushing capabilities will push him out of the lineup. He has enough skill to make a practice squad, though.
Larry Dean is a special teams standout who appeared in all 16 games last year for the Vikings on special teams. Whether or not this alone will give him the ability to stay on a team with weaknesses at his position remains to be seen.
Not as good in man coverage as he is in zone, Dean did find a good fit in Minnesota's Tampa-2 scheme. Dean is small but has all the physical assets the Vikings will want in a linebacker. With an average ability at reading plays and misdirections, Dean will sometimes find his good tackling useless when out of the play. Another player who doesn't have any motivation issues, Dean will play through the whistle.
The Vikings are hoping to improve their ability to cover underneath routes, and Dean might have to find his way onto another team. It is likely that if he does, he will make the 53-man roster of another team instead of the practice squad because of his special teams ability. Dean and Nielsen are of a similar mold, however, and if the last spot is a battle between the two, Dean will likely take if because of his versatility.
Corey Paredes excels in reading plays and quarterbacks but has serious deficiencies in most other parts of his game. While he can angle himself to the ball well, he lacks the form and strength necessary to complete the tackle.
He has issues with flexibility and isn't the greatest in coverage but does attack downhill well enough to fill and redirect running lanes. He doesn't take plays off but also hasn't made much of an impact on most plays that he should. Paredes doesn't get around the blocks on the edge and doesn't have the technique to pressure the quarterback well.
Without sufficient strength or form off of blocks, Paredes likely lacks the ability to make the practice squad.
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
The Vikings had potentially the worst secondary in the NFL and are looking to make big improvements after presumed starters Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook returned from their respective absences.
Still, the Vikings have made moves to add depth following the retirement of Asher Allen, the release of Cedric Griffin and the decision not to re-sign Benny Sapp—all of whom took significant snaps for the Vikings last year.
CB: Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield, Chris Carr, Josh Robinson, Bobby Felder, Brandon Burton
Cook, Winfield and Carr are believed to be guaranteed their spots on the roster, although some expect Carr to compete with Robinson and others for the third cornerback spot.
Cook and Winfield are relatively known entities and should be the two starters barring any surprise at training camp. Cook flashes potential while Winfield is an established veteran. In nickel packages, the Vikings have put Winfield in the slot and the third receiver, usually Carr, outside.
Chris Carr performs better in advanced football statistics than with his raw numbers, having allowed the 10th lowest NFL passer rating in 2010. He has performed well when called upon and uses his excellent recognition and adaptability to cover receivers. He has some concerns with speed, and the injury that sidelined him in 2011 is a big reason why.
The former Raven's strengths best match the Vikings system, and he'll be able to route receivers inside and disrupt timing. His status as a veteran and his ability to pick up and explain the system quickly are assets the Vikings will want to hold on to. They will likely install him as the third cornerback.
Josh Robinson impressed a number of people with his speed at the combine, turning in the fastest speed of any player there. He has translated this straight-line speed into game speed and has stayed with some of the fastest receivers in the NCAA.
He reads routes well and reacts to the ball in the air much better than most prospects. This gives him versatility, as he covers a lot of ground in zone coverage and can line up against many receivers in one-on-one situations.
As a sure tackler, he'll be an asset to the Vikings' offense but lacks many of the physical skills that would allow him to make a bigger impact. He doesn't punch out well on the release and may be a liability against more physical receivers. He may have penalty issues in the NFL, but it is a bit too early to tell.
The Vikings like press coverage, and Robinson needs to improve at this before he can start in the NFL. Still, he has remarkable speed, poise, confidence and reactivity—enough that the Vikings will make sure to keep him on the squad.
Perhaps the only bold prediction in the article, Zachary Bowman and Marcus Sherels will both miss the squad in favor of returning cornerback Burton and undrafted free agent Felder.
Bobby Felder went undrafted largely because of the level of competition he faced while playing for Nicholls State. He has many of the assets that NFL scouts look for and the college production to match.
He has good size and weight for a corner and uses it to his advantage. He might be taken advantage of by the taller receivers in the NFL, but he plays well against nearly every other receiver archetype. He'll want to improve his ability to leap, but he has great instincts once he's in the air.
A physical corner, he'll play the press well and can reroute receivers. He likes to gamble but will often make the play by getting his hands on the ball in some way. While Felder's skill set implies that he's a far better man coverage defensive back, he can perform well in zone situations, too. He does need improvement here and tends to give receivers a bit too large of a cushion but can correct it with coaching.
His best asset is his ability to generate the turnover, with his soft hands, excellent body control and great tracking. Bobby's ability to return punts may exceed Sherels, and he has proven that he can be dangerous with the ball in his hands. This may cement his spot on the roster and simultaneously encourage Sherels' exit.
Brandon Burton displays most of the skills necessary to work in the Vikings Tampa-2 system but is still a raw player. He learns new systems quickly but is still struggling at jamming receivers and playing effectively in press situations. He's also got good size and a willingness to gamble but might have strength issues.
He is nevertheless a good tackler and blitzer, and the Vikings may value this ability more than Bowman's experience in a Tampa-2 system.
Brandon is also a burner and can exceed his combine showing of a 4.5 40. He stays with receivers well and could significantly improve as a corner in the Vikings system.
If he does not improve his ability to read the play, he may be the first casualty in the camp. His instincts and reactions are good, but receivers still have the ability to manipulate them. Burton won't come down with a lot of passes, but his instincts in the air will allow him to deflect a number of them.
Zackary Bowman has played for the Chicago Bears for the last three years (and one game of his rookie year), and performed poorly in every one of them—his performance against Minnesota not withstanding. He saw more playing time in Chicago due to injury to the other corners than anything else.
He's a fine tackler, performs well in the run game and can use his physical assets to play press coverage well. He can jam receivers and force them inside, but he has trouble keeping up with them. His instincts in the air are average, although he has some skill at picking off the ball. He likes to gamble, but it doesn't always pay off.
Bowman's inability to start for a defense with the same system and similar issues in their secondary should speak to his capabilities making the team. He was signed as a "value" free agent with upside, but injuries and a poor history of preventing plays will keep him off the squad.
Marcus Sherels is well known to Vikings fans and impressed as a punt returner. In those capacities, he'll be competing with Josh Robinson and Jarius Wright, who are both relative shoe-ins to make the roster. In addition, he can expect competition from Felder, Todman and Coleman. In short, unless he impresses quite a bit as a punt returner, those skills won't be as important as his coverage capability.
He hasn't had a good game in coverage yet, despite not covering a top receiver for any team. He allowed quarterbacks a 118 passer rating and two touchdowns. He's a good tackler for his size, but that size is still fairly small. Bigger runners will run right through him and he would see snaps on passing downs only at best.
Sherels' best hope is to be a premier punt returner, but if other players can contribute on the defense in a substantially bigger way, Sherels will be left out.
Corey Gatewood and Reggie Jones are relative nonentities. Jones possesses good speed but was an injury worry at Idaho before transferring to Portland State. He never started every game in a season but did record four interceptions his senior year. After spending 2009 on injured reserve for the New Orleans Saints, he spent most of 2010 on their practice squad, before being signed, then cut, by the Redskins.
He spent time on Minnesota's practice squad but has not shown signs of significant improvement. He has good straight line speed but didn't apparently have the rest of the coverage skills necessary to crack a roster. With Minnesota hosting players of more potential this year, expect Reggie Jones not to get a practice squad invite.
Corey Gatewood's most notable accomplishment is being burned by Justin Blackmon in the Fiesta Bowl to the tune of eight receptions and 186 yards. With good size and speed, he's worth taking a look at, but his impressive measurables (4.44 40 and a very impressive 40 inch vertical leap) doesn't always translate to on-the-field skills.
Gatewood has played both as a receiver and cornerback but has spent more time at Stanford on defense. He knows the routes well, and progression, but he can't seem to leverage his strength into defensive pressure. He hasn't shown a remarkable ability to force receivers off their routes or jam them off the line and also has had trouble with his tackling.
He does well with the ball in the air but may not always be in the right place to make a play. His physical skills may give him a practice squad call-up, but he'll need to show improvement as training camp progresses.
Nicholas Taylor is a basketball player. He was a pretty fast point guard who presumably has good footwork. If he shows up, learns quickly and adapts well, he may get a practice squad invite, but it is extremely doubtful.
Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE
One of the biggest disappointments on the roster in 2011, the Vikings had more rotation in safety due to poor play than because of injury or suspension. The Vikings' Tampa-2 system doesn't make a lot of distinctions between free safety and strong safety, but they are critical nevertheless.
S: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton
Harrison Smith is clearly slotted to start at one of the safety positions—it doesn't matter much to the Vikings which one, although he may play slightly better as a strong safety—and it seems to be a three-way competition for the third spot.
Sanford gets the nod here because he's the only one of the three that didn't convert from cornerback and has experience with the defense. There's no guarantee that he'll continue to start as the season progresses, and Mistral Raymond has been steadily improving.
Sanford's mistakes are well-documented, and he'll need to show the type of improvement that marked most of his offseason reports in order to grab a starting position.
Raymond has done well for himself and has added weight and strength to his frame. In his rookie year, he was a tentative tackler and couldn't play against physical receivers all that well. Still, he's been good in one-on-one situations and has a proven ability to run with the receiver. He'll need to improve his read on the play but should be a favorite to start by at least the middle of the year.
Robert Blanton is a bit raw but exhibits all of the qualities one expects in Tampa-2 safeties. He's a sure tackler with power behind his hits and does well in large zone coverage situations. He has issues with his backpedal and in particular had problems at the release on the snap, but the move to safety will ameliorate the first problem and almost completely resolve the second.
He does well against physical receivers but lacks elite speed. He knows where he needs to be in his assignments on run plays and does very well in open space. Blanton has the most upside of all three competitors for the second spot but will need to learn more about the nuances of the safety position before he can start.
Eric Frampton has been the Vikings' special team ace for four years and has done well in that capacity. He's no Don Beebe when it comes to special teams play, or even a Heath Farwell, but he has contributed in big ways. Unfortunately for him, the Vikings' focus on youth as well as Frampton's inability to start in his four years in the NFL speaks to his overall safety play, particularly given the state of safety play the Vikings had last year.
The Vikings may not be looking for another special teams ace in the safety position and may very well let Frampton go.
Andrew Sendejo could be a dark horse to make the team above a player like Sanford (who really could be all over the place in terms of his final position), but it seems unlikely. A graduate of Rice, he played for the Sacramento Mountain Lions before signing with the Dallas Cowboys, where he made the active roster partway through the season.
Sendejo spent time on the Jets practice squad after that, before being signed by the Vikings. He plays well with the ball in the air and has a good sense of the field but needs to exhibit a wider variety of skills before he can make another 53-man roster. He has good size and weight for a safety, but there have been concerns about his hip movement. He's a good tackler, and can get into space well.
For the Jets and Cowboys, during practices, he would occasionally reprise his role as a hybrid LB/S and play in the box on running downs. Reportedly a quick study, Sendejo knows his gap assignments well and plays better against the run than the pass. This is a skill set that isn't exactly what the Vikings are looking for in a safety, but he could get a serious look in the practice squad.