The Vikings wrapped up their final minicamp practice Thursday and will exit the facility until they report to training camp next month. Daniel House discusses five storylines he'll be pondering before the Vikings take the field in Mankato next month.
Updated: June 17, 2017 1:50 p.m.
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings wrapped up their final minicamp practice Thursday and will exit the facility until they report to training camp next month. With that being said, there are plenty of roster battles and unanswered questions as they Vikings enter the next offseason phase. Head coach Mike Zimmer arguably has the deepest roster of his tenure in Minnesota. There are several position groups that will have intense competition. The additions the Vikings made in the draft and free agency really maximized their depth and could put some veterans on watch when roster cuts approach.
An Interior Offensive and Defensive Line Battle
After minicamp, many people are tabbing the wide receiver positon as the top battle heading into training camp. I’ve been arguing for weeks that the interior defensive line spot will be equally important to monitor. The signings of Datone Jones and Will Sutton, along with the selection of Jaleel Johnson in the draft heats up the battle inside. Not to mention, with 32-year-old Tom Johnson coming off a torn hamstring, the Vikings may favor youth at the position. Datone Jones is expected to be the starter, but he will be making a transition from outside linebacker to the three-technique spot. The question will be whether he has mastered the technique, while adding more weight to his frame. This position battle will develop more clarity when the pads are strapped on in training camp, but it appears the door is wide-open to grab the starting nod.
On the offensive side of the ball, the real question surrounds who will emerge as the starting center. The Vikings spent a third-round pick on Ohio State center Pat Elflein, who will presumably compete for the starting job. However, incumbent Nick Easton has been receiving most of the first-team reps during minicamp. The coaches are likely trying to get Elflein up to speed with the system before thrusting him into that responsibility. In addition, the entire scope of the battle will change when both players are in pads during training camp. They will be tested with blitzes, calls, and 1-on-1 drills on a consistent basis. Elflein will have every opportunity to win the job in camp by separating himself from Easton.
All Eyes on the Quarterbacks
Throughout OTAs and minicamp, all eyes were on the slo-mo videos of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater throwing passes for the first time since August. After suffering a serious non-contact injury in 2016, it was a pleasant surprise for fans to see Bridgewater throwing again. He was tossing passes in individual drills, but still isn’t medically cleared for practice. Quarterback Sam Bradford worked with the first-team units during the offseason activities and will continue to do so until Bridgewater is potentially ready this season. It’s hard to imagine the Vikings will rush Bridgewater along, but things could become intriguing if he is medically cleared for training camp. Nobody really knows how far along Bridgewater is with his rehab. It would be surprising to see Teddy on the field for the early stages of the season, but crazier things have happened.
Despite the circumstances, quarterback Sam Bradford performed well last season and is stocked with a new set of weapons this year. Not to mention, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had a full offseason to install his complete system. Bradford has been comfortable with Shurmur’s west coast offense in the past. With a re-tooled offensive line and additional options in the passing game, Bradford has the resources to be successful. It comes down to whether we will see any additional growth in his performance. Can he take the next step this season or was he at his ceiling last year?
Shaking out Wide Receiver Depth
During minicamp, the wide receiver position has been discussed more than any other group. The storylines surrounding the progression of Laquon Treadwell and the addition of Michael Floyd fluttered throughout offseason activities. According to reports out of practice, Treadwell appears to be much improved as a route runner. More importantly, he is gaining more chemistry with quarterback Sam Bradford. Treadwell’s growth is one of the underrated keys to the Vikings’ passing offense taking the next step. Michael Floyd brings experience to the room, but will likely face a suspension for his DUI. Floyd has struggled with efforts issues on his tape, but when he applies himself, he’s a dynamic weapon.
After a disappointing rookie year, Laquon Treadwell will face pressure at his heels with the additions of Floyd, Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley. Not to mention, lost in the shuffle is wide receiver Jarius Wright, who unexpectedly disappeared last season. The wide receiver room has talent at the top, but has a litany of unanswered questions on the backend. Reassurance from the second-tier of wide receivers will be needed during training camp and the preseason.
Finding Chad Greenway’s Replacement
The Vikings must find a replacement for Chad Greenway on the weakside of the base 4-3 defense. Linebacker Edmond Robinson appears to be the favorite in minicamp because of his continued progression. He has the length and athleticism necessary to play on the outside, opposite of Anthony Barr. It's hard to see Kentrell Brothers providing much competition because of his limits as an athlete. I'm also very curious to get a long look at draft pick Elijah Lee, who was an impressive coverage linebacker in college. The Vikings drafted Ben Gedeon in the fourth round, but he would likely be a better fit at the MIKE linebacker spot. Perhaps the coaches will place Gedeon at middle linebacker, moving Kendricks outside with Anthony Barr. The linebacker spot has some uncertainty and clarity won’t be provided until we get deep into training camp.
Alexander's Progression at Nickel Cornerback
Aside from Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings quietly have youth and inexperience at the cornerback position. The loss of Captain Munnerlyn at nickel cornerback places Mackensie Alexander in a role where he will need to step up. Last year, Alexander struggled mightily in limited action, but reports indicate he has taken the strides necessary to improve. In fact, it sounds like he really has bought into the coaching this year. In the event Alexander doesn’t improve, the Vikings might be forced to move Terence Newman or Trae Waynes inside. In my eyes, Alexander is more of a boundary cornerback, which might make him a natural fit on the outside. However, I trust Mike Zimmer and Jerry Gray's expertise in this area. Last year, Alexander was very grabby and his ball skills/footwork needed work. If he polished those aspects of his game, he should be fine inside. Nonetheless, if injuries strike, the coaches might need to do more shuffling than they would like to.
Stay tuned for more breakdowns leading up to training camp. I’ll be in Mankato again covering practices for all of you!