Battles of Mankato: Vikings Training Camp 2009
With time winding down until the beginning of Vikings training camp August 1st at Minnesota State in Mankato, now would seem to be the perfect time to take a look at the position battles that will be resolved heading in camp.
The Vikes find themselves standing on a razor's edge at the moment.
The team has locked up a solid core of a run dominated offense with All-Star Adrian Peterson and one the largest lines in the NFL. Their defense is one of the most stout in the NFL and is the best at stopping the run behind both Kevin and Pat Williams at the Tackle Positions.
With only one or two more pieces needed this training camp may be one of the most important ones the Vikings have ever held, as its results will determine if the franchise will progress towards contention of a NFC title and possibly a Superbowl or continued mediocrity
So let's take a look shall we?
Losses from 2008: Gus Frerotte, John David Booty*
Additions for 2009: Sage Rosenfels, Brett Favre*
*I think we all know the story here
Easily the most scrutinized Vikings position of the Summer. The quarterback dilemma has been brewing in Minnesota since the collapse of Daunte Culpepper's career in 2005.
Minnesota still hasn't resolved the problem at the position.
Last season the position was held down by both Gus Freotte and Coach Brad Childress' pet project Tavaris Jackson. The position appeared to be Freotte's until a late season injury derailed his season and Jackson stepped in to lead a late season surge landing the Vikings in the playoffs. After a terrible performance in the first round against the Eagles, Jackson is now on the hot seat.
The Vikings exchanged a fourth round pick with the Texans to bring in Sage Rosenfels to compete for the starting positon.
With rumors swirling about the status of Brett Favre every day, the position battle remains largely in limbo based entirely on Favre's decision.
First let's examine the position if Favre decides to stay retired.
With the off-season signing of Sage Rosenfels and the axe being given to Frerotte, the battle of mini-camp will be Jackson and Rosenfels dogging each other for the one spot with John David Booty trailing a distant third.
Jackson, a second round pick of the Vikings in 2006 out of Alabama State has had a poor NFL career statistically. Last season saw Jackson make a statement as he improved his QB rating over 20 points from 70.8 to 95.4.
After loosing the job to Frerotte after having a pedestrian start of the season, Jackson regained the reigns in week 14 to finish the last four games with a 114 rating and eight touchdowns to one interception.
Rosenfels finished last season with comparable stats to Jackson. Playing in six games for the Houston Texans, Rosenfels threw 10 interceptions to just six touchdowns. His numbers down the stretch were not nearly as impressive, throwing eight interceptions in the final four games.
As camp progresses expect Jackson to slowly pull away from Rosenfels. His running ability offers more diversity to the Vikings offense. Rosenfels will be exposed as his high yardage games were a product of the Texans' offense more than his talents.
Projection: Jackson over Rosenfels
However this will all change if the Vikings sign Brett Favre to a one year contract. The job will be instantly his and expect Minnesota to cut John David Booty if that is the case as it would be a stretch for the team to keep four QB's on the roster.
Projection: Favre over Jackson and Rosenfels.
If Favre is signed the only battle will be for who will hold the clipboard between Jackson and Rosenfels.
Losses from 2008: None
Additions for 2009: Percy Harvin, Glenn Holt
The Vikings have run through a slew of receivers in recent seasons. The addition of Benard Berrian in 2008 provided one stable starter. The rest of the alignment remains a large question.
The drafting of Percy Harvin has given the team an unknown threat at the WR position. Harvin has NFL speed but is incredibly small in stature. How the Vikings intend to deploy Harvin in their mainly west-coast passing offense remains a mystery. However, Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell has said he has many plays drawn exclusively for Harvin to utilize his skills.
Look for Harvin to have an impressive training camp after a shaky start to his time in Minnesota (Harvin grew incredibly ill on the plane ride to Minnesota and collapsed due to dehydration). If Harvin can remain on the straight and narrow and avoid more marijuana issues he should have a solid camp to fit into the flex receiver position.
The final two slots will be fought over by Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison and Glenn Holt.
Wade has had solid numbers during his time in Minnesota, going back to 2007. He's averaged around 645 yards and three touchdowns, which would be solid if he weren't Minnesota's number two threat. Entering his seventh season in the league it appears that Wade has reached his career's apex. Expect no more than around 500 yards and a few touchdowns from here on out.
Sidney Rice has been an enigma for the Vikings since his draft in 2007. Rice has shown flashes of big time ability but has been little more than a red-zone receiver in his time in the NFL. At 6'4" and over 200 pounds, Rice is a battler within 20 yards of the endzone, as evidenced by his four touchdowns last season on only 141 yards.
With a stronger QB Rice might see improvement in his numbers, as he has become solid in the redzone, expect him to begin improving his work on the rest of the field.
Aundrae Allison remains on the roster mainly for his kick returning abilities as he has never caught for more than 122 yards in his time at Minnesota. It would appear Allison has hit a wall in his production. His production should remain constant this season as well at around 100 yards and possibly a receiving touchdown.
The signing of Glenn Holt from the Bengals has tied off the loose end of the final spot in the Vikings receiving corp. While never producing a lot for the Bengals as a receiver, Holt is an excellent kick returner, averaging 25 yards a return. Holt can show flashes of great talent but isn't consistent enough to threaten the higher ranked receivers in Minnesota.
WR 1- Benard Berrian
WR 2-Sidney Rice/ Bobby Wade
Flex- Percy Harvin
WR 5- Glenn Holt
WR 6- Aundrae Allison
Losses from 2008: Matt Birk
Additions for 2009: Phill Loadholt
The biggest offseason loss for the Vikings was that of All-Pro and mainstay Center Matt Birk. Birk had anchored the Vikings line since 2000 and had reached six pro-bowls.
With the Left Tackle and Left Guard positions being held very firmly by big man Bryant McKinney and All-Pro Steve Hutchinson, the first battle will begin over the Center spot left open by Birk's departure.
All signs early on point to Birk being replaced by former Notre Dame center John Sullivan. Sullivan was drafted in the 2008 draft for this very moment, to grow and replace Birk. While Sullivan has shown improvement in the past two seasons, the transition will not be clean and expect some hiccups to occur.
Switching from one of the greatest centers to ever play the game to a young player with little game experience will be a move that will require patience. Sullivan has the tools and the size (6'4" 305 lbs.) but will need time to learn the ins and outs.
The Right Guard position will be up for grabs between last season's starter Anthony Herrera and Artis Hicks.
Herrera faced many challenges last season but was able to secure a spot on the line for all seventeen games. He has gained the favor of the coaching staff and is getting better with every season. The job will be his unless he becomes injured or Hicks delivers a Herculean effort in training camp.
Artis Hicks has been a solid backup for the Vikings during his time in Minnesota. Hicks was a starter on the Eagles' Superbowl squad but has fallen since that time. Don't expect to see Hicks to start much this season if things go smoothly for the line.
The big (and I mean BIG) addition to the offensive line this season is Phillip Loadholt (pictured above) out of Oklahoma. Loadholt stands in at 6'8" and weighs in at almost 340 lbs (as does his counterpart on the other side Bryant McKinney). The job will belong to Loadholt as soon as camp begins and expect his run blocking abilities to have immediate impact.
Loadholt will have to improve his pass blocking ability as it is his major weakness. There will not be immediate pressure on him to do so however in the run happy Minnesota offense.
Eternal backup Ryan Cook will be at the ready should Loadholt struggle or become injured.
Center- John Sullivan
Right Guard- Anthony Herrera (don't be surprised to see Hicks switch in and out)
Right Tackle- Phillip Loadholt
Losses from 2008: none
Additions for 2009: Kenechi Udeze
Since the addition of Jared Allen last season, the Vikings have greatly improved their pass rush from the Defensive End spot. Allen will remain an anchor on one end of the line but the other side is somewhat in limbo.
Ray Edwards had a solid year last season securing 55 tackles and five sacks. Edwards' career has been marred by a steroids suspension that he suffered in 2007, causing him to miss four games that season. If Edwards can remain out of trouble, he will most likely be the number two DE on the Minnesota D-Line.
The wild card here is returning Defensive End Kenechi Udeze. Udeze was a productive member of the Defensive line in 2004, 2006 and 2007 but was missed all of last season after being diagnosed with Leukemia. The disease is now in remission and Udeze has received a marrow transplant from his brother.
Udeze has returned to the Vikings roster and will look to gain his job back from Edwards.
Don't expect Udeze to reclaim his job during camp, but also don't be surprised his Udeze can gain sparring amounts of playing time late in the season one he regains his football legs.
Projection: Edwards over Udeze
Losses from 2008: Vinny Ciurciu
Additions for 2009: Jasper Brinkley
The Vikings' defense has not been known for flashy players at the linebacker position unlike their division rivals the Packers and the Bears. Chad Greenway has secured his position at the Sam Linebacker with solid seasons after missing all of his rookie season with a knee injury.
EJ Henderson, once a secure starter, now finds himself in a position battle for Inside Linebacker with the newly drafted Jasper Brinkley.
Henderson was well on his way to another strong season through the first four games of 2008, recording 27 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. At the end of the week four game against the Tennessee Titans, Henderson dislocated multiple toes and was placed on IR. Showing uncertainty in his improvement, the Vikings spent a sixth round pick on Brinkley.
While the Vikings like Brinkley's size and tackling ability, don't expect him to take Henderson's job. If Henderson returns to his old form the job will be his to lose.
For the second straight year the Will Linebacker position will be fought over by Ben Leber and Heath Farwell. Leber has seperated himself by miles from Farwell in the past seasons since coming from San Diego. Look for Leber to continue his improvement this season, as he recorded a career low 1.5 sacks last season. The job is his.
Henderson over Brinkley
Leber over Farwell (by a longshot)
Losses from 2008: none
Additions for 2009: Asher Allen, Karl Paymah
The VIkings have had the same issue with the number two spot at CB that they have had at QB: they seem unable to sign a consistent player to the position.
Antoine Winfield has been excellent on the other end and was rewarded with a five year extension. The same can't be said for the candidates on the other end of the field.
Cedric Griffin, Charles Gordan and Benny Sapp all saw time at the number two corner spot last season with Griffin emerging as the starter.
The Vikings seem set on Griffin and want him to remain the starter. He will have his hands full warding off all of the challengers for his position. Both Sapp and Gordon will bring their average abilities to the table to challenge Griffin should he under perform. Sapp and Gordon combined for over 40 tackles last season and together form a quality backup player.
Karl Paymah, an off-season signing from Denver, will likely remain in his career role of a backup. Paymah was mainly signed to bring his 30 tackle a year average in to challenge and keep Griffin sharp. Paymah however is more than capable to step in for some time should Griffin or Winfield become injured.
Asher Allen will be the unknown coming into the season. He had a largely unnoticed career at the University of Georgia and recorded no interceptions his senior year. Allen has skills to become a moderately good NFL CB with some grooming, so don't expect him to contribute much this season with so many other's vying for a spot.
Cedric Griffin over Karl Paymah with Benny Sapp, Charles Gordon and Asher Allen bringing up the rear.
Losses from 2008: Darren Sharper
Additions for 2009: Jamarca Sanford
With the loss of All-Pro Darren Sharper at the Strong Safety position, the Vikings have been left with little options at what will be the weak point of the 2009 defense.
The early nod will be given to Tyrell Johnson, in his second season out of Arkansas State. Johnson recorded 31 tackles and one interception last year and will need to become NFL ready by the end of camp. Johnson has shown the knack for big hits but often gets burned on deep patterns.
He will need to become a much more diciplined player in his second season for the Vikings' Defense to remain at the top end of the league.
Breathing down Johnson's neck will be Husain Abdullah, another second year player. Abdullah recorded 20 tackles in a very unnoticeable backup role. Should Abdullah have to start over Johnson, the Vikings secondary could be in trouble.
Also competing this training camp will be draftee Jamarca Sanford. A captain at Ole Miss, Sanford could end up being a great steal for the Vikings if he can fill out his potential. Sanford was the active career tackle leader in the SEC at his time of graduation and was a great corner for the Rebels. Don't expect Sanford to make a huge impact this season but keep your eyes open for him in seasons to come.
Tyrell Johnson over Jarmarca Sanford and Husein Abdullah
Losses from 2008: none
Additions for 2009: Taylor Mehlhaff
While it will certainly not be much of a competition during camp, it should be noted that there are two kickers on the Vikings roster.
Minnesota signed Taylor Mehlhaff to a one year contract after he was released by the Saints after missing an extra point against the Chargers.
Expect Ryan Longwell to be the kicker for at least one more season in Minnesota, as this was mainly a proactive move to protect against Longwell's age.
Ryan Longwell over Taylor Mehlhaff
There's only one week until the 2009 Vikings begin to take shape. There are a lot of things hanging up in the air for Minnesota and if they can settle them in Mankato the team could surge to the front of the NFC.
What do you think? Do the Vikings have it in them? Or will a history of blowing it continue to haunt Minnesota and its fans?