8 Minnesota Vikings Players Who Will Surprise in Training Camp
As the days of July come and go faster than a Johnny Depp movie, (wasn't it just July 4th five minutes ago?), there are 95 guys who are down to their last week of summer before they'll report to Mankato, Minnesota on July 25 for the beginning of Vikings' training camp.
Like every year at training camp, you'll be able to notice some guys who trained harder than everybody else in the offseason (Adrian Peterson will be one of those guys) and there will be guys who probably visited Dairy Queen once too often.
The Vikings will be opening training camp with as deep and talented a group as they've had in at least four seasons. General manager Rick Spielman and his staff have had two straight excellent drafts and they signed another group of free agents that should give a significant contribution in the coming season.
Minnesota now has nice depth at several positions on the field and this year's training camp should have some of the best position battles we've seen at Mankato in years. Offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker and secondary positions are all up for grabs with two or three players with legitimate starting chances squaring off.
Here we look at eight players who could be big surprises at Vikings' training camp this summer.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver
It was 15 years ago when a rookie wide receiver took what is now Mall of America Field by storm on his way to becoming one of the best of all time. And while nobody is suggesting that this year’s rookie, Cordarrelle Patterson, is going to be the next Randy Moss, there is a sense of excitement among the Vikings faithful that something special is about to happen at the wideout position.
Charlie Baggett, who coached Moss with the Vikings and helped recruit Patterson to Tennessee, recently said the following to the Star-Tribune’s Dan Wiederer:
“When you look at just the sheer speed and athleticism, Cordarrelle may have even more explosion than Randy had. Honestly. He’s that special.”
Baggett was quick to tamp down comparison’s to Moss, who he considers the greatest deep threat in the history of the game, but even seeing their names in the same sentence is enough to make Vikings fans drool.
Just a year removed from playing junior college football, the easy assumption is that Patterson is raw and needs seasoning. While both of those things may be true, don’t expect the process to take very long with someone as gifted as Patterson is.
The 6’3”, 215 pound burner will be used immediately on kickoff returns and start camp as the backup to Jerome Simpson at the receiver spot opposite of Greg Jennings. How long he remains the backup will be up to him.
All of the bubble screens, quick hitches and even handoffs that used to be the realm of Percy Harvin, will now fall to Patterson in some way, shape or form. Every bit the athlete that Harvin is, it remains to be seen if Patterson has Harvin’s tenacity.
What will be surprising at training camp is just how electric of a player Patterson is. No. 84 jerseys are about to become very popular in Minnesota again.
Desmond Bishop, Linebacker
The Minnesota Vikings went through free agency, the draft, all of the OTAs and minicamp looking like they were going to end up starting a rookie at the weak side linebacker spot.
Then in late June the Green Bay Packers released Desmond Bishop and it was deja vu all over again. The Vikings were quick to sign yet another ex-Packer to a one-year deal and the six-year veteran will certainly start at one of the linebacker spots come September.
It was yet another savvy move by Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, as he was probably reluctant to hand over a starting spot to rookie Gerald Hodges or journeyman Marvin Mitchell.
In Bishop they get a proven commodity, a guy who started 26 games with Green Bay, and although he missed all of 2012 with a hamstring injury, he had two very productive years before that for the green and gold.
Bishop will bring a veteran's swagger to training camp with the Vikings. Instead of trying to figure out which rookie was best suited to start, defensive coordinator Alan Williams now has another veteran player to work with and who can show the youngsters how it's done.
Bishop started both years in Green Bay at an inside linebacker spot in a 3-4 scheme, but he's versatile enough to play either inside or outside in Minnesota.
The Vikings now have options with both him and Erin Henderson and can find out in training camp who is better suited to play the inside spot and who can play weak side linebacker.
Bishop became a numbers casualty in Green Bay after tearing his hamstring and having to sit out last season. He's now 100 percent healthy and should bring another dimension to the Vikings linebacking corps.
Bishop had eight sacks and an interception in his two years as a starter in Green Bay and he brings some much needed experience to the Vikings defense.
Bishop made it clear that he's willing to play either spot in Minnesota and it will be up to Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams to figure out who fits which spot better between Bishop and Henderson.
The addition of Bishop should certainly lighten the load on Henderson and Chad Greenway, who would've had to spend too much time babysitting and reassuring a rookie starter.
Jeff Locke, Punter
For the second consecutive draft the Minnesota Vikings made a surprising move in their kicking game, this time selecting punter Jeff Locke out of UCLA in the fifth round.
In 2012 the Vikings shocked everyone when they drafted kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round when they still had the very dependable Ryan Longwell on their roster. Walsh became an All-Pro as a rookie and made everyone forget about Longwell.
It shouldn’t take long at training camp for Locke to make everyone forget Chris Kluwe. Kluwe certainly had a fine career with Minnesota, but he did have some trouble with the shanks in 2012 and he wasn’t angling the ball towards the sidelines as much as the Vikings wanted him to.
Locke has a huge leg, averaging 44.2 yards per kick in his four-year career at UCLA. The left-footed Locke is also very adept at kicking at angles and keeping the ball away from return men.
Much has been made of the Vikings letting go of Kluwe for being too outspoken, but it’s a move that makes a ton of sense football-wise, with Kluwe set to make $1.45 million this season.
Locke is simply a better, cheaper punter than Kluwe at this point. Locke was a dominant special teams player at UCLA, constantly giving the Bruins the advantage in field position with his booming leg. He’ll also do the holding for Walsh on field goals.
The addition of Locke gives the Vikings perhaps the best, and certainly the youngest, kicking duo in the NFL.
Travis Bond, Offensive Guard
The Minnesota Vikings knew they needed to add depth to their offensive line in the 2013 draft and they certainly addressed that issue, taking a pair of guards in Jeff Baca and Travis Bond.
They tabbed Baca, out of UCLA, in the sixth round and then took the massive Bond with their second of three choices in the seventh round. Both players are very good candidates to make the 53-man roster and it would be a complete surprise if either of them didn’t at least land on the practice squad.
Bond will probably make the team because of his versatility, an asset that offensive line coach Jeff Davidson always looks for. Bond is listed on this slide as guard, but he was used as a backup to both tackles, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt at the team’s OTAs and minicamp.
At 6’6”, 330 pounds, with long arms, Bond is ideally framed to be an NFL tackle, and he played a lot of snaps at several different positions while at North Carolina. Bond’s ability to fill in at several different spots will give him a big edge when it comes to cutting down the roster.
Bond, nicknamed “Tree Top” will stand out at camp, being the biggest player on the field. Bond will have to adjust to he speed and quickness of defensive linemen at the NFL level, but he looked quicker than you’d expect in shorts and jerseys.
Bond has size and strength that you just can’t teach or coach and his ability to play several different positions along the offensive line will get him a lot of snaps at training camp.
It won’t be a surprise if Bond takes the mantle of “biggest Viking” away from Phil Loadholt.
Josh Robinson, Cornerback
Vikings second-year cornerback Josh Robinson knows the deal, and he's ready for it.
Robinson is going to be the first man up in the Vikings' attempt to find a replacement to their legendary slot corner, Antoine Winfield, who signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason.
At 5’10” and a solid 200 pounds, Robinson has never played the slot position before, and while nobody will expect him to tackle like Winfield, Robinson can use his speed and toughness to more than handle the position.
Everyone expects rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes to take over one starting cornerback spot opposite of Chris Cook. You don’t use a first-round selection on a cornerback who isn’t going to start.
Alas in today’s NFL, especially in the pass-happy NFC North, the slot cornerback will be on the field for well over 50 percent of the defensive snaps.
Robinson showed why he was so highly regarded coming out of Central Florida as a rookie. The fastest corner in his draft class, Robinson showed good cover skills and a good compete level in going up against the best receivers in the world. Robinson’s play tapered off in the last month of the season, but that can be attributed to being a first-year guy.
Robinson’s now been around the block for a season and nothing will jump out at him in his second go round. He hasn’t played the slot position before, but he proved to be a smart kid with a good head on his shoulders last season and shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting to his new role. Robinson has a muscular frame and didn’t shy away from the physical part of the game last season.
Replacing a legend like Winfield certainly won’t be easy, but look for Robinson to make huge leaps forward in his play during his second season.
Jerome Simpson/John Carlson, Wide Receiver/Tight End
2012 was a surprisingly successful season for the Minnesota Vikings; a 10-6 season and a playoff appearance exceeded most people’s expectations.
The team aside, 2012 was a particularly awful season for both Jerome Simpson and John Carlson, two receivers brought in as free agents before last season.
Carlson had signed a five-year, $25 million deal and was a huge bust, catching just eight passes on the year. Simpson wasn't much better than Carlson, catching just 26 passes without a touchdown.
Both players caught the injury bug early in the season and never really got untracked. It certainly didn’t help that the Vikings passing offense stayed in first gear the whole season.
The 2013 season offers redemption for both players. Carlson has a restructured deal that probably saved his spot on the roster and the Litchfield, Minn., native wants to prove that he can still be a successful player in the NFL.
Carlson looked good in the team’s minicamp and although it will be tough to get targeted too many times on a team that has both Kyle Rudolph and Rhett Ellison, Carlson wants to prove early on in camp that he can still be an integral part of the offense.
Simpson will come to camp healthy and wants to prove that he can cash in on all the potential he showed in his breakout season with the Bengals in 2011. He never looked like the same player after suffering a couple of injuries early in the 2012 season.
For Simpson it will be vital to have good camp as he’s going to have superstar-in-waiting rookie Cordarrelle Patterson breathing down his neck for a spot in the starting lineup. The obvious hope of the Vikings coaches is that they can get huge contributions from both players.
The two biggest disappointments on the Vikings roster from 2012 head toward the 2013 training camp bent on changing Vikings’ fans perceptions of them. They’ve both been excellent players in the league before, the chance at reclamation begins next week for both.
Everson Griffen, Defensive End
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen was forced to became a man last season. 2013 will be the season Griffen cashes in on all that potential that's dripped off of him since joining the Vikings in 2010. (Perhaps the only 270 pound punt gunner in league history.)
The 6’3”, 270 pounder is an athletic freak who has showed flashes of brilliance on the field in his three seasons, but also clearly had some growing up to do. Then last October, his mother passed away unexpectedly while visiting him in Minnesota.
It was a wake up call that Griffen has heeded. He played like a terror down the stretch last season, culminating in a three sack game against the Packers in the Vikings huge home win that got them into the playoffs and he added another sack in the playoff loss to Green Bay.
The 2013 season brings some intrigue to the Vikings defensive end corps, as all three regulars, Griffen and starters Jared Allen and Brian Robison become free agents at season’s end. At just 25 years old, Griffen is obviously the future of the club at the position, but he won’t just be handed snaps in 2013, he’ll have to earn them.
Griffen has so much speed and talent that it’s certainly not out of the question for the Vikings to come up with packages in obvious passing downs where all three players are on the field.
The world changed for Griffen last season. He lost his mother and he caught glimpses of how good he can be when he makes football his number one priority.
Expect a monster season from a monster talent.