The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2012 training camp in a rebuilding mode. This became very evident early in the offseason when new GM Rick Spielman released many veterans, some of whom were still playing at a starting-level caliber.
Some of those released were five potential players that could have started in 2012 like G Steve Hutchinson (32), G Anthony Herrera (32), NT Remi Ayodele (29), CB Cedric Griffin (29) and K Ryan Longwell (37) in favor of either a younger player that fits the rebuilding model and/or salary cap reasons.
In addition, the Vikings did not re-sign key free agents that could have contributed like S Husain Abdullah (26), S Tyrell Johnson (27), TE Visanthe Shiancoe (32) and MLB E.J. Henderson (32) to new contracts and saw longtime TE Jim Kleinsasser (35) retire.
That is a combined average age of a little over 31-years-old, which is not necessarily retirement age by any means but for a rebuilding team it is time to give some younger players the opportunity to learn on the job.
The 2012 NFL draft for the Minnesota Vikings saw 10 new players added to the roster along with many free agents acquisitions averaging just over 26 years old with CB Chris Carr being the oldest at 29.
If the Vikings maintain that trend I will give you five names that are the most likely to be cut in favor of youth.
Jenkins was signed in 2011 within a week of being released by the Atlanta Falcons, after he became expendable when the Falcons drafted Julio Jones. The Minnesota Vikings had questions about Bernard Berrian’s ability to be the No. 2 receiver next to Percy Harvin and with the lockout-shortened season and a new OC in Bill Musgrave, Jenkins was a perfect fit.
He came in knowing the scheme that Musgrave wanted to install from their time together in Atlanta and quickly established himself as the starter before his season ended with a torn meniscus.
Jenkins is 30 years old and according to quarterback Christian Ponder, he is still showing signs that he is not recovered from his injury. Ponder stated that he seemed to be having trouble planting on his knee and running in minicamp.
Jenkins, at this point in his career, is a veteran possession receiver that lacks the ability to separate from coverage and does not play special teams.
The Vikings addressed the receiver possession in the 2012 draft when they selected University of Arkansas receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. During OTAs and minicamp, young players like Manny Arceneaux and Stephen Burton also took great strides in their case to make the 53-man roster behind likely starters Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson, once Simpson returns from his three-game suspension.
The Vikings would benefit financially from cutting Jenkins as his 2012 cap hit is $2.5 million which may not seem large by NFL standards, but for the Vikings it is by far the largest for a receiver.
In fact, Jenkins salary is more than the combined salaries of Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs and all four players could pass him on the depth chart by the end of training camp.
As other teams make roster cuts to get down to 53 players, that salary space could be helpful in signing other bodies if the right fit is available.
Jenkins is not my only veteran receiver to find their roster spot in jeopardy on this list.
Like Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu will feel the pressure of the Minnesota Vikings' logjam at receiver.
Aromashodu, 28, is entering his second year with the Vikings after signing his second one-year contract in as many seasons. Aromashodu does have a good size (6'2", 201 lbs) and speed combination, but his hands have been wildly inconsistent and he has not shown the ability to improve his route running.
Aromashodu was given numerous chances in 2011 to assert himself in the offense with Jenkins being injured and Bernard Berrian getting released, but was not able to do much with it.
He only managed to catch 20 passes for 468 yards despite playing 676 snaps, which was more than Percy Harvin (600) received. He had a 33.3 percent catch rate which was also the lowest of any NFL receiver who played at least one third of the team’s offensive snaps.
Aromashodu will have to have an almost flawless training camp, combined with the younger talent stumbling, to earn a roster spot.
As I mentioned in the intro, the Vikings saw their two primary starting guards from the past few seasons, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, released in an effort to get younger and save salary cap space.
Joe Berger was thought to be in competition for the starting right guard position vacated by Herrera’s release, but his name is not surfacing to the many conversations about the camp battle.
Berger, 30, is an eight-year veteran of the NFL and started in 13 games in 2011 for Minnesota. He offers versatility on the offensive line where he can play both guard and center, but he will face stiff competition for a roster spot this year.
The Viking signed G/T Geoff Schwartz (26) who is younger than Berger, but missed 2011 with a right hip injury. Schwartz was an 11-game starter in 2010 for the Carolina Panthers where he played under Vikings OL coach Jeff Davidson. If he does not win the starting guard position, he will be a valuable backup behind Phil Loadholt at RT.
The player that seems to have an edge as the starter at RG in 2012 seems to be second-year player Brandon Fusco. Fusco, like Berger, has the ability to play both guard and center. Fusco was a 2011 sixth-round draft pick who started three games for the Minnesota Vikings.
Fusco is known for his hard-nosed, almost nasty streak, and he is a favorite of the coaching staff. OL coach Davidson spent numerous trips scouting the Slippery Rock University player prior to the NFL draft and it almost seems to be his job to lose at this point.
The Vikings do have some other intriguing, young talent (all 25-years-old or under) on the inside of the offensive line in players like C Quentin Saulsberry, G Chris DeGeare, G Austin Pasztor and G Tyler Holmes who could earn a spot on the active roster or the practice squad based on training camp performances.
I like Berger’s game a lot and he brings a solid veteran presence with versatility, but the Vikings may hang onto the younger players and develop them instead.
Safety Eric Frampton has made his mark on the Minnesota Vikings as a special team’s standout. He led the team in special teams tackles with 22, which certainly are valuable, but replaceable.
The Vikings brought in young players like LB Solomon Elimimian, CB Zack Bowman, RB Lex Hilliard and LB Marvin Mitchell that all have the ability to be very good special team players.
Frampton, 28, also has the fact that he rarely has seen time on the field at safety even with the injury riddled season that the secondary had in 2011.
On the depth chart right now are holdovers from 2011 in Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, who Frampton was not able to beat out to earn starts after Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson were lost to season-ending injuries.
To make things more difficult for Frampton, the Vikings drafted two players in first-round pick Harrison Smith and fifth-round pick Robert Blanton who may put Frampton on the outside looking in for snaps at safety.
Frampton will once again have to prove himself as a key cog on special teams in training camp once players are allowed to make contact.
QB Sage Rosenfels may be a surprise on the list, but I have my reasons for including him.
This offseason the Vikings made the announcement that Joe Webb would receive the entire offseason to focus on being the primary backup to Christian Ponder. That makes Sage Rosenfels a 34-year-old third-string quarterback, which certainly isn’t unheard of in the NFL.
Another interesting fact is that Rosenfels hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season NFL game since 2008 when he was a member of the Houston Texans.
The reason that Rosenfels could be expendable in my mind is two-fold.
The first is that Christian Ponder, by all accounts, is expected to firmly have an excellent grasp on the offense and is the clearly established starter with Joe Webb inserted as his full-time backup.
It has been stated by both GM Rick Spielman and HC Leslie Frazier that Ponder is poised to take a big step forward in 2012. Spielman even went as far to compare the progression of Ponder to quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Eli Manning.
Rosenfels will clearly enter training camp as the No. 3 quarterback, but I don’t think the Vikings are just going to hand him that role even if the veteran brings a great presence with 12-years of experience.
My second point is that if Ponder and Webb have such a great grasp of what OC Bill Musgrave is trying to accomplish with this offensive scheme, the value of a veteran may take a hit and they could opt to develop raw player to be the No. 3 quarterback and save a practice squad spot for a young player at another position. That player would seem to be free-agent signee McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
Bethel-Thompson , 24, has a great size for a NFL quarterback (6'4", 230 lbs) and by all reports coming out of minicamps and OTAs, he has the strongest arm on the team. OC Musgrave is a quarterback by trade prior to coaching and has numerous years of experience as a quarterbacks coach prior to joining the Vikings.
With a good training camp Bethel-Thompson could prove to be worth keeping as a developmental player over a veteran like Rosenfels.