While very little is guaranteed in the National Football League, there are certain players that Minnesota Vikings fans can be certain will get a starting role next season.
After nearly breaking Eric Dickerson’s rushing record following knee surgery in the offseason, Adrian Peterson probably has a lockdown on the running back position (duh!).
Jared Allen looks pretty secure at defensive end, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerome Simpson will likely be Minnesota’s top wide receivers and the Notre Dame duo, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson, will likely be the starting tight ends.
There may be a contingency of Vikings fans that would like to see Matt Cassel unseat Christian Ponder, but unless Mr. Samantha Steele really struggles in camp the starting quarterback position is his to lose.
(Fortunately after struggling against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs, Joe Webb will not be in the running for starting quarterback. He will either be a backup wide receiver or playing 500 with schoolchildren next year.)
There are some intriguing battles in training camp this year, however. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are competing at nose tackle, Jeff Baca, Seth Olsen and Travis Bond will be trying to unseat Brandon Fusco at right guard and the biggest competition of all will be between Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop to see who becomes the middle linebacker.
Nose Tackle: Letroy Guion vs. Fred Evans
This is a two-man race between Guion and Evans. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier made this abundantly clear, saying that he is unlikely to use top pick Sharif Floyd at that position.
“I don't foresee such a drop off with Letroy [Guion] or Fred [Evans] to let that happen," Frazier told ESPN1500’s Andrew Krammer. "But if for some reason that were to happen, we'd have to consider it. But I don't envision [Guion and Evans] not playing up to par."
Guion is the incumbent and Frazier’s guy. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, Guion made 15 starts last season and has played in at least 15 games over the past three years.
At age 26, he is entering his prime and Frazier appears to be giving him a chance to lock down the position long-term with a performance this season. His first step will be dominating training camp.
Evans is 29 and has been with the Vikings since 2007 after originally being drafted by the Miami Dolphins. Inconsistent throughout his career, Evans is more likely to make a big play than Guion, but also opens the door for teams to take advantage of his peaks and troughs by attacking him throughout the course of the game.
Despite entering camp as the No. 2 guy that has to prove his worth as a starter, Evans feels he is getting his fair shake.
"It's going to be determined in training camp," Evans told Krammer. "Myself and Letroy Guion, we're two very good defensive tackles in our own right."
For a more in-depth look at how these two players match up, check out Arif Hasan’s breakdown here at Bleacher Report.
Right Guard: Brandon Fusco vs. Jeff Baca, Seth Olsen and Travis Bond
While the other two position battles are mano y mano, like when Billy challenged Eric for control of his father’s company, this is a four-person free-for-all like Super Smash Bros. except the winner gets a starting position in the NFL, not a boss battle with Ness.
This is Fusco’s position to lose.
He’s a great story. A sixth round pick in 2011, he was drafted out of Division II Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
The 6’4”, 316-pound Fusco somehow went from competing against the California University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Tall Tree University of Pennsylvania (okay, I made the last one up) to beating up on the Packers, Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions (a.k.a. Michigan University of Pennsylvania).
Fusco was awarded All-NFC North honors by NFL.com, but Frazier is making this an open competition for the position.
Baca was drafted in the sixth round of last year’s draft out of a bigger school called the University of California-Los Angeles. They compete against schools like the USC, Oregon and Stanford. At 6’4”, 302 pounds, he is not significantly smaller than Baca and should be NFL-ready after playing against big-time prospects in the Pac-12.
Olsen is 28 and made four starts for the Indianapolis Colts last year. His veteran experience will be valued by the team and has the tenacity that the Vikings coaching staff craves. If Fusco, ahem, slips a little bit and Baca is not NFL-ready by the beginning of camp, Olsen is a legitimate threat to earn the starting position.
On the other hand, Bond has incredible size (6’6”, 329 pounds), but is incredibly slow. He is basically the second coming of Jerry Ball, except on the other side of the line.
He is unlikely to start at right guard this season.
Middle Linebacker: Erin Henderson vs. Desmond Bishop
Make no mistake sports fans, the first two battles were just the undercard. This is the heavyweight matchup.
Henderson has been a Viking since 2008, but never has played middle linebacker. He entered camp determined to change that.
“At this point there’s no plans of me moving back to the outside,” Henderson told Tim Ryan and Pat Kirwan on Sirius XM NFL Radio (h/t ProFootballTalk).
“I’m still playing middle linebacker after speaking with my coaches. That’s the decision that they made and what they want to do right now. I’m still embracing it. I’m still looking forward to it and I’m still excited about the opportunity to get out there and play Mike for the Vikings.”
Bishop was released by the Packers, however, and comes over from the dark side with experience at the middle linebacker position. He can be moved around the field and has played in the 4-3 before.
The sixth-year veteran did not play last season, however, after tearing his hamstring in an exhibition game. At 28, he is in the middle of his prime and has put up good numbers in the past, but he has to be on top of his game in camp to win the middle linebacker position.
Henderson has been welcoming towards Bishop, telling Judd Zulgad of ESPN1500 that, “You definitely need as many good players as you can have,” but make no mistake, these two players will be competing all camp long for the coveted Mike position.
For more information on this battle, read Arif Hasan’s in-depth breakdown here at Bleacher Report.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.