Jim Kleinsasser (TE/FB/H-back)
Competition breeds excellence. It can motivate players to work harder and improve faster.
Training camp provides players an opportunity to come in and compete for a job.
Last season, the Minnesota Vikings returned all 22 starters from a 2009 team that came within one play of advancing to the Super Bowl. This season there could be several new faces in the starting lineup.
The 2011 Minnesota Vikings training camp is underway, and there are plenty of competitions to keep an eye on.
Today (August 4) is the first day of full-scale practices at training camp, and things are going to start getting very interesting.
Here are eight key position battles to follow as the Vikings prepare for the upcoming season.
Husain Abdullah (SS)
The release of Madieu Williams did not come as a surprise to many. He has been extremely disappointing since signing a huge contract with the Vikings in 2008.
Williams' departure has opened the door for some healthy competition at the safety positions.
Husain Abdullah, who was a surprise starter at strong safety last season, will likely retain his starting spot.
The other safety position will be up for grabs.
Third-year player Jamarca Sanford, a seventh-round pick in 2009, started the final two games of last season. He may not have ideal size, but he has the makings of a disruptive, hard-hitting safety in the mold of Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders.
Sanford may be the early front-runner, but Tyrell Johnson is nipping at his heels.
Johnson, who started 15 games for the Vikings in 2009, only appeared in seven games last season. He knows that he is at a critical juncture in his career and is looking to bounce back.
"Things didn't go as planned for me last year, or, really, anytime since I've been here," Johnson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the first day of training camp. "But the way I look at it is I've got a tremendous opportunity."
The Vikings are hoping that Johnson will step up and become the playmaker they were looking for when they drafted him in the second round of the 2008 draft.
Rookie Mistral Raymond will also get a look at safety, but might not be ready to jump into a starting role just yet.
Sanford and Johnson will likely push each other until somebody emerges as the clear starter.
Erin Henderson (LB)
Ben Leber will not be back in purple and gold this season, so the door is open for one of the Vikings younger players to step into a starting role.
On the second day of camp, Leslie Frazier said that Erin Henderson is "penciled in" as the new starting weak-side linebacker, but made it clear that Jasper Brinkley and Kenny Onatolu will also get a chance to compete for the spot.
Henderson has primarily played on special teams, but has spent significant time in practice at outside linebacker.
Brinkley, on the other hand, has more starting experience. He started in place of Vikings middle linebacker E.J. Henderson (broken femur) toward the end of the 2009 season; however, he does not have much experience playing on the outside.
Onatolu reportedly has a stress fracture and was seen wearing a walking boot yesterday (third day of camp). Leslie Frazier told the media that Onatolu's status is day-to-day. He will likely assume his usual role this season as a special teams ace.
This spring the Vikings drafted another linebacker: Ross Homan (Ohio State).
Homan is not an explosive athlete, but he possesses the intangibles to succeed. Don't be surprised to see him on the field sooner rather than later.
Erin Henderson should be able to win the job and start alongside his brother (E.J. Henderson) and Chad Greenway.
Matt Asiata (FB)
The Vikings did not tender Naufahu Tahi, who is a free agent this season. This leaves second-year player Ryan D'Imperio and undrafted free agent Matt Asiata to compete for the job.
D'Imperio played linebacker in college (Rutgers), but was converted to fullback by former Vikings head coach Brad Childress. He has the speed, toughness, and competitive drive to succeed at the fullback position, but he will be facing competition for the job.
Asiata is a physical, hard-nosed back that can pick up tough yardage, but he has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career. If he can stay healthy, Asiata could challenge D'Imperio for the job.
Another option could be veteran tight end Jim Kleinsasser, who spent some time at fullback during his 12 years in Minnesota.
Kleinsasser is the longest-tenured veteran on the team and one heck of a blocker. He is the definition of a professional and would be a solid replacement for Tahi.
If the Vikings need a new lead-blocker, they should look no further than good ol' Jimmy Kleinsasser.
D'Imperio or Asiata might be the future, but Kleinsasser should be the present.
Jaymar Johnson (WR)
Sidney Rice finally got his payday. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it was with the Seattle Seahawks.
Percy Harvin immediately becomes the Vikings number one receiving threat.
Behind Harvin, there could be a battle for the second receiver spot between Bernard Berrian, Michael Jenkins and possibly Jaymar Johnson.
Berrian has been extremely disappointing the last two years, but Leslie Frazier believes that Berrian will bounce back and have a great season. However, the Vikings are reportedly still pursuing free agent Malcom Floyd (San Diego Chargers), so there is a chance that Berrian could be cut loose before the season begins.
The newly acquired Jenkins is very familiar with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's playbook, and would be a solid, if unspectacular, second or third option.
Jaymar Johnson spent all of last season on injured-reserve, but is a speedy receiver that could leapfrog Berrian during training camp. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Johnson has made several nifty catches through the first three days of training camp. He is due for a breakout season.
The Vikings will likely keep six receivers on their 53 man roster.
Here are the top candidates to fill out the remaining two spots on the receiving corps:
-Devin Aromashadu (acquired from the Bears last season)
-Greg Camarillo (smart, savvy veteran acquired from the Dolphins last season)
-Emmanuel Arceneaux (former CFL standout)
-Juaquin Iglesias (third-round pick by Bears in 2009)
-Stephen Burton (rookie, drafted in seventh round)
Pat Williams (DT) and Letroy Guion (DT)
Recently, the Vikings signed Remi Ayodele (Saints-DT), making it unlikely that Pat Williams will be back in Minnesota this season.
Ayodele is the only true nose tackle that the Vikings have on their roster, but Letroy Guion will also be given a chance to compete for the job. However, Kevin Williams is facing a four-game suspension this season, so Guion might end up being the opening day starter (at the three-technique) next to Ayodele.
Rookie Christian Ballard will also be in the mix. The Vikings got a steal when they drafted him in the fourth round of this year's draft, but Ballard will have a hard time beating out Guion, who has been impressive as a rotational player.
The Vikings only have two other defensive tackles on their roster: Fred Evans (a five-year veteran) and Tremaine Johnson (undrafted in 2009).
There will probably be a lot of rotating going on, especially early in the season, but Guion should step up if Kevin Williams misses any time.
Guion may be better suited at the three-technique (Kevin Williams' position), but could end up starting at nose tackle once Williams returns to action.
Chris DeGeare (OL)
With Anthony Herrera coming of ACL surgery, the door is open for someone to swoop in and steal the starting right guard position.
Yesterday the Vikings re-signed veteran Ryan Cook, who might be the favorite to start in Herrera's place on opening day. Cook is a versatile lineman who has started 40 games during his five years in Minnesota.
Second-year player Chris DeGeare is another option. DeGeare is a big, strong player with good initial quickness. He has the ability to drive defenders off the ball and has shown flashes of nastiness while on the field.
Rookie DeMarcus Love will also get consideration for the job. Love's greatest asset may be his athleticism. He has a strong upper-body, allowing him to get a good initial punch on defenders.
If Herrera is not ready for the start of the season, Cook will probably win the job based on his experience in the NFL, but DeGeare and Love could both give him a run for his money.
This will be an important competition to monitor, as the Vikings offensive line struggled mightily in 2010.
I think it's safe to say that Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin (assuming he can stay healthy) will hold down the two starting cornerback positions, but it appears that the nickel cornerback position will be up for grabs.
Chris Cook and Asher Allen are the two most likely candidates for the job, but rookie Brandon Burton will also be given a chance to show what he can do.
The Vikings have high hopes for Cook, who played a limited role last season due to knee problems. If he can stay healthy, Cook should spend plenty of time on the field this season. His 6'2" frame and long arms allow him to get a good jam at the line of scrimmage and disrupt opposing receivers' route timing.
Allen is a short, compact player with great athleticism. He is a very good open-field tackler and has displayed good instincts, especially in run support. Allen started 11 games in 2010 because of injuries to both Griffin and Cook, and should only improve as he gets more playing time.
Burton has the tools to be a good cornerback in the NFL, but he may need a little time to improve his footwork.
Cook should secure the the nickel corner position, but Allen will put up a good fight. And if Griffin were to miss time during his recovery from ACL surgery, Cook could even move into a starting position.
Joe Webb (QB)
Prior to the start of training camp, it was thought that rookie Christian Ponder and second-year player Joe Webb would be competing with each other for the starting quarterback job. Then the Vikings traded for six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Leslie Frazier has made it clear that McNabb will be the starter.
That leaves rookie Christian Ponder and second-year player Joe Webb to compete for backup duties.
The two young quarterbacks will be not only be battling for the backup position this season, but will be competing for the future starting job in Minnesota.
Ponder, who was drafted in the first round of this year's draft, seems to have taken the lead, but Webb has tremendous upside.
Ponder will likely win the backup quarterback job this season, but the battle for a future starting job will be ongoing.
This year the NFL has eliminated the emergency quarterback rule, which is beneficial for Joe Webb. The Vikings will probably have a few special packages designed to take advantage of Webb's incredible athleticism.