Every year, citizens in Mankato are witnesses to a monstrous parade of over-sized Sport Utility Vehicles. Escalades, Bentleys, Denalis, you name it. Once a year, they make their way down the highway, and onto Stadium Road, marking the first true sign that Vikings Training Camp is underway for the year.
This year, with a team looking to make a run deep into the playoffs, the focus is under center. Who will win the coveted position of starting quarterback? Does Tarvaris, Sage, or JD Booty end up with the grand prize for 2009?
That battle is being covered by every media outlet under the sun. Fortunately, there are fifty other players trying to earn spots on this year’s Vikings roster. Of those players, several are involved in significant position battles of their own which will receive far less attention from the press. We delve a bit further into the players and possible outcomes from these matchups.
Third String Running Back
One of the best running back tandems in the league is all but guaranteed two roster spots. Who will rise up and take the position behind Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor on the depth chart?
Ian Johnson—The Boise State Bronco made famous in the Fiesta Bowl for scoring the winning two point conversion in overtime was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by Minnesota. Johnson is the current WAC Record Holder for Rushing Touchdowns in a career, and was a first team All-American in 2006.
Kahlil Bell—A former UCLA Bruin, Bell was also signed by the Vikings as an undrafted rookie free agent. Bell will have to show that he has fully recovered from his injuries that limited his play in 2007 (Torn ACL) and 2008 (High Ankle Sprain).
Albert Young—Signed by the Vikings as an undrafted rookie in 2008, Young was not on the team last season. The former Doak Walker Award Semifinalist has been invited back to Mankato for another shot at the roster.
Projection: With little to go off so early in camp, this may be the toughest battle to project. Right now, I give the slight edge to Johnson but at this point the position is up for the taking.
The starters are fairly set heading into training camp, but this season, the question of who will take the depth has to be asked. Which linebackers will make it on the team to back up EJ Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Ben Leber?
Erin Henderson—Younger brother of starter EJ Henderson who saw limited action in ten games as a rookie last season. Erin was signed by the Vikings as an undrafted rookie in 2008.
Heath Farwell—Intense player and special teams ace on the Vikings, Farwell has been named Vikings Special Teams MVP in the past, but has to show he has recovered from an ACL tear that caused him to miss the entire 2008 season.
Jasper Brinkley—This year’s fifth-round draft pick figures to be part of the linebacker discussion. Brinkley recorded 54 tackles in his senior season at South Carolina.
David Herron—Undrafted, but signed as a rookie free agent of Michigan State, Herron is entering his second full season with the Vikings. Herron saw playing time in fourteen games, including three starts for the Vikings in 2008.
Projection: Look for David Herron and Erin Henderson to secure spots on the roster. Erin is having a great start to training camp, which could keep him on board through roster cuts.
Farwell may pick up one of the last remaining roster spots in part because of his great special teams play. Brinkley will probably be one of the last cuts, though if he does not make the 53 man roster, he will likely end up staying with the team on the practice squad.
With Antoine Winfield signing a contract extension this offseason, the top two cornerbacks on the roster appear to be set. However, with Charles Gordon not returning following a horrific injury in 2008, which players will step up to try and claim that spot?
Asher Allen—This year’s third round pick will be part of this intense battle. Despite playing with a broken hand, Allen was able to make plays repeatedly for the Georgia defense last season.
Benny Sapp—Ended up as the Vikings nickel back after Charles Gordon’s injury in 2008. A five-year veteran who also spent time in Kansas City, Sapp recorded 22 tackles and two interceptions with the Vikings in 2008.
Marcus McCauley—A third-round pick for the Vikings in 2007, McCauley has been inconsistent during his career. He started nine games in 2007, but only saw playing time in 10 games last season, recording six tackles.
Projection: Despite a shaky start early, Allen has been performing well in training camp with his physical play. Look for Allen to surprise some people and surpass Sapp and McCauley on the depth chart to get the nickel spot. That said, all three players should end up making the final roster.
Wide Receiver Depth
The drafting of Percy Harvin surprisingly gives the Vikings a logjam at the receiver position. After the first three or four spots on the depth chart, the competition is largely open and up for the taking. Look for Bernard Berrian, Harvin, Sidney Rice, and Bobby Wade to be the first four receivers to make the team. Who will make the squad after them?
Aundrae Allison—A fifth-round pick for the Vikings in 2007, Allison has seen limited playing time with the Vikings on offense and special teams. He currently holds the franchise record for longest kickoff return, a run that went for 104 yards and a touchdown back in 2007.
Glenn Holt—Undrafted by the Bengals in 2006, the Vikings signed Holt earlier this offseason. Holt saw playing time for the Bengals last season in fifteen games, including two starts.
Darius Reynaud—Reynaud was undrafted, but signed as a rookie free agent with the Vikings in 2008. A former player for West Virginia, he is third in school history in receiving touchdowns.
Jaymar Johnson—A sixth-round pick in 2008 for Minnesota, Jaymar Johnson spent the entire season on the practice squad. He played for Jackson State, where he started every game for three straight seasons.
Projection: Jaymar Johnson is grabbing attention early in training camp, showing incredible quickness and making plays in 7 on 7 drills. Johsnon should manage to secure one of the last receiver spots and final spots on the roster overall.
Reynaud has been inconsistent early in camp, but should do just enough to make the practice squad again for the Vikings. Allison may have enough equity built up to grab one of the last roster spots as well, but if he does not make the final cut, expect Reynaud to be on the roster in his place.
Four position battles, none of which have anything to do with players named Booty, Sage, or T-Jack. Training camp gives plenty of room for hope and optimism amongst both the fans and the players.
Be sure to watch these players as they fight in Mankato and in the preseason to try and make the final 53 man roster. Maybe next year, some of these players will be able to join in the SUV parade as well.