8 Players Who Might Find Themselves on the Vikings Practice Squad in 2013
On Thursday, July 25, 90 players will report to training camp for the Minnesota Vikings in Mankato, Minnesota.
On the line will be 53 roster spots, along with eight slots on Minnesota's practice squad. While the goal of every player at training camp is to make the final roster, the reality for some is that the goal is to make enough of an impression at camp to be signed to the practice squad.
NFL practice squads are for players who haven't accrued a season of free agency credit, or who were on the 46-player Active List for less than nine regular season games during each of any accrued seasons. No player can serve on a practice squad for more than three seasons.
In simpler terms, the practice squad is used by NFL teams to stash players of promise, players who are good practice guys and can move seamlessly onto the active roster if and when injuries occur.
Teams also find ways around keeping just eight players. Last year, the Vikings cut and re-signed defensive end Ernest Owusu and offensive lineman Tyler Holmes all season long, essentially keeping them both on the practice squad.
In effect, the practice squad is where dreams go to be put on hold. You live the day-to-day life of an NFL player, you just get paid a lot less (in 2012, practice squad players made $5,700 a week) and they're not active for games.
The Vikings, like all NFL teams, will shuffle players on and off of the practice squad all year long, depending on injuries and depth chart needs.
With less than a month to go until training camp opens, we take a look at some good candidates to end up on the Vikings 2013 practice squad.
Michael Mauti, Linebacker
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Linebacker Michael Mauti will more than likely be placed on the Non-Football Injury list to begin the 2013 season.
Mauti is coming off of a torn ACL and might not be cleared to go full-steam ahead by the time training camp opens on July 26. The NFI list is similar to the PUP list, but frees the Vikings up to classify Mauti differently, as he was drafted as an injured player.
Minnesota took a flier on the gifted, but often injured, linebacker out of Penn State. The Vikings have begun a tradition of bringing in college teammates in an effort to ease the transition to the pro game. After drafting outside linebacker Gerald Hodges in the fourth round, the Vikings selected Mauti in the seventh round with hopes that he can shake of his injury-filled past and be a productive NFL player.
The two Nittany Lions come a year after Minnesota brought in three sets of college teammates in the 2012 draft.
Mauti seems to be the perfect type of player to end up on the practice squad at some point in 2013. He's a talented football player, but he's also a player that had three knee surgeries while at Penn State. While that is obviously a red flag, it's also 2013 and doctors are able to repair knees like never before.
Mauti has a high ceiling if he can stay healthy. Instinctual and versatile, he's a high-character player at a position where the Vikings are relatively weak. Mauti might not get a lot of reps in training camp as he's coming off of a torn ACL rehabilitation. But if he was worth a draft pick, he'll be worth keeping around to see what type of player he might be once he's fully recovered and ready to go.
Everett Dawkins, Defensive Tackle
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With their last pick in the 2013 draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected Everett Dawkins, a 6'2", 292 pound defensive tackle out of Florida State University.
Dawkins is a high-character kid who graduated from FSU in just three-and-a-half years with a degree in social science. He was a four-year member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee at Florida State. In his post-football career, Dawkins says he would like to coach football.
All of those things add up to the Vikings wanting to take a good, long look at Dawkins. He'll have to put on some weight and develop more strength to play defensive tackle in the NFL and he's coming to a team that will have several intense training camp battles at his position.
Kevin Williams will be one starting defensive tackle and the other spot is up for grabs among Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Sharrif Floyd and Christian Ballard. Floyd is the heir apparent to Williams' under tackle spot, but may spend his rookie season rotating reps with those other players.
As you can see, this excess of defensive tackles may limit opportunities for Dawkins in camp. Dawkins was a rotational player for most of his time at Florida State (all four defensive line starters for the Seminoles were drafted) and will need to prove to Vikings coaches that his lack of elite strength or size won't prohibit him from playing in the NFL.
The player most similar to Dawkins on the Vikings roster is probably Ballard, who uses his quickness and athleticism to make plays on the defensive line.
Dawkins is clearly a long shot to make the Vikings roster, but Minnesota liked enough of what they saw out of him to use a draft pick on him. He seems to have enough upside to be a likely candidate for the practice squad.
Chris Summers, Wide Receiver
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Chris Summers was on the Vikings practice squad for all of the 2012 season. The Vikings liked enough of what they saw in Summers at practice that they signed him to a futures contract in January.
There's a lot to like about Summers, a tall, athletic player who has plenty of potential. Summers is 6'5" and has bulked himself up in the offseason, putting on about 10 pounds of muscle and should head to camp weighing around 220 pounds.
Summers will be a part of one of the more interesting position battles at training camp. The pecking order for Vikings receivers is pretty solidly locked in through the first four: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright.
Then things get interesting with Stephen Burton, Joe Webb, Summers, Erik Highsmith and perhaps Greg Childs all in the mix. Childs is obviously a long shot and may end up on the PUP list, but the other four will more than likely battle for the last two receiver spots on the roster.
LaMark Brown, Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen will fill out the other receiver spots on the 90-man training camp roster.
Webb is probably the X-factor in that group in that we know the least about him as a receiver at this point, after spending his career as a backup quarterback. He's fast, athletic and can catch, so the hope is that he can make the roster as a receiver.
If Webb makes the 53-man roster, that will almost certainly mean that Summers will once again head to the practice squad. Summers has now spent a year in the league and clearly flashed enough potential that the Vikings will want him around if a roster spot becomes available for any reason. Summers dominated the Big South Conference while at Liberty, but he's had to make the adjustment to playing against the best players in the world.
He's more than likely headed to another season on the Vikings practice squad.
Bobby Felder, Cornerback
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The Vikings continue to be high on second-year cornerback Bobby Felder. The 6'1", 200-pounder out of Nicholls State spent 2012 on the practice squad and impressed Vikings coaches all year with both his play and his attitude.
Felder's chances of making the active roster took a hit when the Vikings drafted Xavier Rhodes in the first round of the 2013 draft. His chances of making the roster in 2013 would improve greatly if someone were to beat out Marcus Sherels for the punt returner job. That remains a long shot, however, as special teams coach Mike Priefer remains attached to Sherels' dependability in that role.
Felder enters camp in 2013 as more of a known entity, and he'll be locked into a battle for a roster spot with returning cornerbacks A.J. Jefferson and Brandon Burton. The Vikings are high enough on Felder that if he has a good camp and either Jefferson or Burton stumble, they won't hesitate to keep him and cut ties with the other two.
Felder transitioned nicely last year from playing against small-school competition to facing NFL receivers. He plays well against both the run and the pass, and the best guess is that he'll see some NFL playing time in 2013.
Travis Bond, Guard
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While it's a very real possibility that both guards taken in the 2013 draft by the Vikings, Jeff Baca and Travis Bond, make the team out of training camp, the guess is that one of the two will be relegated to the practice squad.
The Vikings like what they see out of both guys, but Baca might have a slight edge in being NFL ready, so we're guessing that it's Bond who ends up on the practice squad at the end of camp.
At 6'6", 330 pounds, Bond can be a force on the offensive line. Overshadowed in college by his more heralded teammate, first-round pick Jonathan Cooper, Bond is a massive presence that the Vikings would love to see earn his way on to the active roster.
Bond has good feet and a natural force that's impossible to teach. Unless he falls flat on his face at training camp, he'll stick with the team, more than likely on the practice squad.
Joe Banyard, Running Back
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Joe Banyard spent the 2012 season on the Vikings practice squad and while it might be a boring choice to see him back there again in 2013, it's highly likely.
The Vikings running back situation will be nearly identical in 2013 as it was in 2012. Adrian Peterson will get the lion's share of carries and when he needs a breather, Toby Gerhart will be the guy. Matt Asiata, a dependable special teams player and a guy who can get you three yards if you need him to, will be the third runner on the roster.
Banyard will be brought back to the practice squad because he's a hard worker and a dependable, character guy, the kind head coach Leslie Frazier likes to have around Winter Park. Banyard is hoping to pursue a career in the FBI or in police enforcement when he's done with football, which is exactly the type of people the Vikings like to have around.
The Vikings are bringing two other backs to camp, Jerodis Williams and Bradley Randle, but neither looks to be a serious threat to unseat Banyard on the practice squad. Williams played at Furman and is certainly undersized at 185 pounds, and Randle is just 5'7" and was a backup at UNLV.
So again, it will be more of the same for the Vikings at running back in 2013, which is certainly not a bad thing. The Vikings will more than likely have to start searching for a new No. 2 guy this offseason, when they will probably lose Gerhart to free agency.
Rodney Smith, Wide Receiver
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If Rodney Smith is a part of the Minnesota Vikings organization after training camp, it will be as a member of the eight-man practice squad.
While the practice squad has become more of a place to stash players in case regular roster players become injured, there are sill enough spots to hold on to a guy like Smith on pure potential.
Smith is pretty raw and didn't catch a ton of passes at Florida State, but what he's got going for him is size and speed, two things you can't coach. At 6'6", 225 pounds, Smith is a fast and fluid runner with an 84-inch wingspan.
With the Vikings having such a logjam at wide receiver, Smith probably won't get enough reps in training camp to show what he can do. What Smith will have to do is make the most of his few chances and prove to the Vikings coaches that he's worth using a practice squad spot on.
Like the aforementioned Chris Summers, a lot of Smith's fate at training camp will depend on Joe Webb and Greg Childs. If Webb proves able to make the position switch and Childs is healthy enough to play, the opportunities become pretty slim for Vikings hopefuls at wide receiver.
Zach Line, Fullback
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One of the more intriguing undrafted free-agent signees who will be at Vikings training camp is fullback Zach Line, the reigning Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year.
At 6'1", 230 pounds, Line projects as a hybrid sort of back, a guy who can play both positions effectively. Line rushed for over 4,000 yards while at SMU, and also caught 75 passes. He is a tough kid who doesn't project that well when you look at his size and speed, but he also seems to always find a way to get it done on the field.
Whether or not Line can be effective at the highest level remains to be seen, but he also fits the mold of the type of player general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier love to have around the organization. He's the type of player that could stick in the league for a few years as a special teams ace.
Line was given an $8,000 signing bonus, the highest of any of the Vikings rookie free agents.