Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Vikings Pre-Training Camp Storylines

Photo Courtesy of Vikings.com
Entering training camp, there will be several position battles worth monitoring. Daniel House pulls out his top storylines as the Vikings report to training camp on Thursday. 

Updated: July 26th, 2016 10:00am

By: Daniel House

Entering training camp, there will be several position battles worth monitoring. They include: cornerback, linebacker, offensive line, and wide receiver. In this post, I have complied several position groups and players that I will be keeping a close eye on during training camp. As camp gets started on Friday morning, the roster battles will heat up and all eyes will be shifted towards constructing the roster for the regular season. At training camp, I will have the same coverage you are accustomed to including player interviews, Twitter analysis, and complete practice recaps.

Until then, here are my training camp storylines:

The Offensive Line Construction
With the recent retirement of Phil Loadholt, the offensive line has shifted into the center of attention as training camp approaches. Free agent signee Andre Smith has suddenly become the favorite to start at right tackle. The real question will be how the depth of this position group is constructed. Brandon Fusco really struggled in 2015, but as he moves back to the right side, he will face stiff competition from Mike Harris. Matt Kalil will look to recover from an up-and-down 2015 campaign. Not to mention, John Sullivan will be recovering from a back injury. Last season, veteran Joe Berger proved he was one of the more underrated players in the league and could push Sullivan for the starting job. With Alex Boone on the left side and Tony Sparano coaching the position group, it will be worth noting the culture change that has taken place with this group. Fourth round draft pick Willie Beavers and returning players Austin Shepherd, Jeremiah Sirles, and Nick Easton will likely battle for the final one or two spots within this group. The Vikings could keep nine or ten offensive lineman depending upon training camp/preseason performance and the construction of other position groups on the roster. With a crowded room, the competition for a roster spot will be amped up as the players battle in training camp.

Who will win the strong safety spot?
The strong safety position is one of the open starting spots that will be up for grabs in training camp and the preseason. Andrew Sendejo was re-signed to a new deal, but the team added free agent veteran Michael Griffin. Sendejo understands the system and is likely considered the incumbent entering camp. However, Griffin is much better in coverage and has the same hard hitting persona in the back end of the secondary. Aside from those two options, 2015 undrafted free agent Anthony Harris is another name to keep an eye on. Last year, Harris started two games and flashed his football intelligence, coverage skills, and ability to make plays as a run defender. He has apparently bulked up this offseason and was working very hard to improve his knowledge of the system. If Coach Zimmer is comfortable with the younger option at strong safety, a battle for the final roster spot would likely occur between Andrew Sendejo and Michael Griffin.

The one hashtag synonymous with training camp is #How'sTeddyLookin'? This year it will be worth monitoring Teddy Bridgewater's throwing motion and the consistency with his mechanics. It will be particularly worthwhile to see him reach zero and come over the top of his throws. It will be hard to gauge the performance of the offensive line in team drills. The performance up front will have a direct impact on how Teddy's mechanics shape up. There were many situations where he wasn't allowed to step into a clean pocket and release the ball with a consistent throwing motion last season. Teddy will need to show he can move the ball up the field this season. Many of his vertical throws have the tendency to sail high, but an improved throwing motion would help alleviate some of this issue.

Did Patterson improve the mental aspects of his game?
Cordarrelle Patterson has been receiving plenty of hype from both head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman. Zimmer normally doesn't dole out much praise unless he means it. However, Spielman has been known to produce some hype to get trade stream brewing. Patterson has been behind the curve when it comes to learning the playbook and running effective routes. Spielman recently noted in an interview that Patterson has made "tremendous strides" this offseason. In camp, he will be tested frequently on how he can get open and learn the plays. When the press coverage at the line of scrimmage begins, Patterson can truly be evaluated. It is easy to perform well when defensive backs are shaded off the line of scrimmage. Patterson will receive plenty of reps in training camp and the preseason to prove he is ready to have a role in the offense.

The new WR additions: Moritz Böhringer and Laquon Treadwell
The Vikings used a first round selection to add Laquon Treadwell to their wide receiver corps. Treadwell is an extremely physical wide receiver that wins the tough contested catch battles. He will need some time to adjust to getting open and running routes at an NFL level. Nonetheless, Treadwell has the potential to develop into a feature wide receiver in the offense -- it just might take some time. Watching him in training camp and the preseason will provide a better indication of his development as he makes the transition to the professional level.

Moritz Böhringer was selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. His athleticism is off the charts, but he will need plenty of time to adjust to the NFL playing style. Getting open against a physical defensive back in the NFL is totally different than a German football league cornerback. Even considering how far he must catch up, he still is an intriguing player to evaluate in training camp. He seems like a practice squad developmental project for the future.

The kicking game: does it look better?
As I noted in a previous post, the kicking game is going to be a huge aspect of the team that needs to improve. Jeff Locke didn't punt the ball up to standards and Blair Walsh will need to mentally recover from missing a critical kick in a playoff game. Will the Vikings add a punter to the roster before camp to push Jeff Locke? Every day gone by makes it seem less and less likely. Locke and Walsh need to be placed in pressure situations in training camp and the preseason. Walsh needs to focus on kicks from 20-35 yards and Locke must kick the ball more against a live rush.

Take a look at the these preview articles
I broke down the positions below during my previews leading up to training camp. Check them out below:

A Look at the Kicking Game
A Way Too Early 53-Man Roster Projection
Analyzing the Strong Safety Spot 
It All Starts Up Front: Improving the Vikings Offensive Line
Building the Linebacker Position Around Barr, Kendricks
Cornerback: The Toughest Training Camp Battle 
Making the Vikings' Defense Elite in 2016
Improving the Vikings' Offense
Laquon Treadwell's Fit in the Offense
The Vikings Are Building for the Future
The Vikings Hottest Roster Battles
Continuity vs. Competition: A New Vikings Offensive Line Philosophy 

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