Minnesota Vikings' Most Positive Preseason Surprises so Far

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IAugust 20, 2013

Minnesota Vikings' Most Positive Preseason Surprises so Far

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    The Minnesota Vikings broke from training camp last week in Mankato and are now back at their headquarters at Winter Park in Eden Prairie. It was basically an uneventful camp, which is a good thing, as NFL news in the first half of August is usually injury-related.

    Going injury free hasn't been the only positive for the Vikings, though, as many players and positional units have stood out as positive surprises from camp thus far.

    On the field, the Vikings have started slow in their preseason schedule, dropping games to both the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills

    Neither loss is worrisome at all in these glorified practice sessions, but the hope is that the team looks a little more battle ready when it takes on the San Francisco 49ers this coming Sunday evening.

    The third preseason game normally sees NFL teams use their starters for at least a half of football, before letting Game 4 go to the players fighting to make the squad.

    Yes, the Vikings are 0-2 so far in the preseason, but that hardly means it's been an unsuccessful camp. Here are the most positive preseason surprises for Minnesota so far.

Depth at Wide Receiver

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    The Minnesota Vikings won't have the worst receiving corps in the NFL this season.

    We won't come right out and say they've had the worst group of pass-catchers over the last two years, but they certainly weren't on anybody's short list.

    The Vikings' days of writing out checks to the likes of Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu are long gone.

    What would have been hard to hear for any Vikings fan at this point a year ago is that Minnesota would be heading into the 2013 season without the services of Percy Harvin. In a whirlwind of an offseason, Harvin is currently on the PUP list in Seattle, while former Packer Greg Jennings has taken on the role of No. 1 receiver for the Vikings.

    The Vikings were certainly happy with what they saw out of rookie Jarius Wright in the latter half of 2012, but Wright has exceeded most expectations in his second training camp with the team and, according to 1500 ESPN's Andrew Krammer, feels like he can play a much bigger role on this year's team.

    The other two receivers who are a lock to make this year's roster are Jerome Simpson and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. Simpson is fully healthy and looking to make amends for a disappointing 2012. Patterson has shown flashes of brilliance so far, including a 50-yard kickoff return against the Texans.

    The battle for the fifth and perhaps sixth receiver spots is running hot and heavy.

    Third-year man Stephen Burton appears to have a leg up for the fifth spot. 1500 ESPN's Judd Zulgad reports that Burton has stood out in practices and returned the ball well in both exhibition games. Burton has frustrated Vikings fans by not providing much in his two seasons with the club, but playing wide receiver in the NFL isn't easy, and Burton has shown great improvement. 

    Joe Webb, Chris Summers, Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen have all had their moments in camp but might ultimately be doomed by the numbers game.

    Overall, the Vikings will have much more depth at receiver than they've had in years. It will be nice for the Vikings coaches to have to agonize over who to cut at receiver rather than agonizing over who to keep.

It Looks Like Another Great Draft Class

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    It's obviously far too early to call the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 draft class a resounding success, but nearly a month into camp and everything points to that being the case.

    General manager Rick Spielman and his staff should still be taking bows over their bumper rookie crop of 2012 that included Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Jarius Wright and Blair Walsh. 

    The Vikings front office might have outdone itself in 2013, adding three first-round picks in Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson. That trio is joined by Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti and Jeff Locke to form a class that has a chance to rival the success of last year's group.

    Floyd had a knee scare in the Vikings' first preseason game, but it proved to be nothing serious, although Ben Goessling reports on ESPN.com that Floyd had a minor procedure on Monday that will probably keep him out of the rest of the preseason.

    As for the other first-round picks, Rhodes and Patterson, both have stepped right into the mix and look ready to compete for playing time immediately. Patterson almost broke a kickoff return against the Texans and caught four passes for 54 yards. Rhodes has been physical since day one, and his deflection of a Kevin Kolb pass led to a Jamarca Sanford interception on Friday night.

    Punter Jeff Locke has showed off his big leg in both practices and in both games and will pair with Blair Walsh to give Minnesota a tremendous kicking game.

    Linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti have both played well in the exhibition games and competed all camp long. 

    Late-round picks Jeff Baca and Travis Bond are both battling for roster spots as depth players on the offensive line, and one or both of them could end up on the practice squad.

The Vikings Have Avoided Injuries

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    Injuries happen in football; it's just part of the game.

    From every snap in a game to every drill in practice, injuries are lurking everywhere. It's the nature of the sport, and having a successful season involves a bit of luck in avoiding the injury bug. 

    Injuries are always a part of the deal in training camp. Guys are making their bodies do things they haven't done in a while. The Minnesota Vikings have been very lucky so far in avoiding any major injuries in the 2013 preseason.

    The Eagles' Jeremy Maclin. The Packers' Bryan Bulaga. The Chargers' Danario Alexander. The Broncos' Dan Koppen. The Seahawks' Percy Harvin. All hoped to have big seasons in 2013, and their teams were counting heavily on them. All but Harvin are lost for the season.

    The NFL is a tough business, and it's always next man up, but all of those players leave big holes in the hopes of their respective teams.

    Sure, the Vikings have suffered their share of bumps, bruises and strains during camp, but nobody is down and out. Coaches game-plan for everything, but nothing can throw those plans up in the air faster than a major injury to a key player.

    Like we wrote in the introductory slide, it's been a pretty uneventful preseason for the Vikings camp. In this case, no news is definitely good news.

The Vikings Are Loaded on Special Teams

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    The Minnesota Vikings are learning that one of the biggest benefits to having a more talented roster from top to bottom is that your special teams will be much better.

    Rick Spielman and his staff might have become the NFL's version of "Moneyball," as they have replaced both a successful kicker and punter in the last two seasons with not only younger and less expensive players, but better kickers as well. 

    In a sport that has smart men spending every hour of every day looking for even the smallest advantage, you have to tip your cap to the Vikings for spending sensible draft picks on kicker Blair Walsh in 2012 and punter Jeff Locke this year.

    The Vikings know that every inch counts on the football field, and with those two huge legs on their side, it will be a rare occasion that the Vikings don't enjoy an advantage in field position.

    Minnesota made a tough decision in trading Percy Harvin this offseason. He was its best wide receiver and was arguably the most electric kickoff return man in the league before getting injured last season.

    In drafting Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings hope they have someone who can bring as much electricity to the kick return game. Stephen Burton has also shown a nice burst, taking one back all the way against the Bills, only to have it nullified by a penalty.

    Marcus Sherels is fighting for his spot on the team with fellow cornerback Bobby Felder, who had a big game returning punts against the Bills as well as showing up nicely on defense.

    Overall, the Vikings special teams should be stocked with a lot of talented players as the Vikings have deepened their roster strength tremendously over the last two seasons.

Roster Spots Will Come Right Down to the Wire

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    The Minnesota Vikings coaches are probably already pulling their hair out when it comes to trying to decide who to keep on the roster for 2013.

    That's a very good problem to have, and one Minnesota hasn't had to tangle with for a couple of seasons.

    The Vikings have had to keep players who didn't belong on NFL rosters over the last two seasons, and now they'll be forced to let go of players who are able to play in the league.

    It's still too early to say whom the Vikings may keep and who may go, but the battles are heating up at several positions. There probably won't be room on the roster for both Audie Cole and Michael Mauti. Jeff Baca, Travis Bond and DeMarcus Love could be battling for one spot as a backup offensive lineman.

    Minnesota has always loved Joe Webb's athletic ability, but one summer at wide receiver might not have been long enough to make him an NFL-caliber wideout.

    Andrew Sendejo has been a special teams ace, but will that possibly be enough to win a roster spot over Robert Blanton? Has Zach Line's tenacious play at fullback been enough to earn a spot?

    Suffice to say, there will be plenty of pacing and handwringing in the Vikings coaches' rooms come cutdown days. The Vikings will easily fill their practice squad after their final cut but will almost certainly lose some good players on the waiver wire.

    There are tough decisions to be made. It's a good place to be, far better than handing out jerseys to the likes of Asher Allen and Tyrell Johnson.