Monday, July 23, 2018

Four Vikings Roster Battles to Watch in Training Camp

Photo: NFLDD

Vikings training camp will begin with rookies holding a practice at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday. Daniel House takes a look at the potential roster battles.

Updated: July 23, 2018, 12:45 p.m.
By: Daniel House

Vikings training camp will begin with rookies holding a practice at TCO Performance Center on Wednesday. As camp kicks off, the roster battles will intensify in August as the 53-man roster starts to take shape.

When practices begin, there are a few position groups where young players will be proving they are worthy of a roster spot. With that in mind, here’s a close look at position battles worth watching during training camp and the preseason.

Wide Receiver
The final two roster spots at wide receiver have a plethora of candidates who could snatch a reserve role. Former New York Giants wide receiver Tavarres King and Bears pass catcher Kendall Wright signed in the offseason. In addition, local product Brandon Zylstra was added after a strong CFL campaign in Edmonton last year. Second-year wide receiver Stacy Coley also could compete for a spot if he can stay healthy.

The Vikings injected experienced options into the room to go along with undrafted free agents Jeff Badet, Korey Robertson, Jake Wieneke and Chad Beebe. Badet is a spark-plug style player and speedy vertical threat, who starred at Oklahoma. Jake Wieneke was a Maple Grove Minn. star and rose to the top of the depth chart at South Dakota State. In addition, Korey Robertson was widely considered a mid-round prospect, but went undrafted after his athletic testing drew concerns. Finally, Chad Beebe, a primary slot receiver and son of former Bills wide receiver Don Beebe, drew attention in camp and could be an option for the practice squad.

With all of those players in the fold, the final reserve spots on the depth chart are up for grabs through a strong performance in training camp and the preseason.

Offensive Line
When Vikings players arrive to training camp, it will be with heavy hearts as they mourn the loss of offensive line coach Tony Sparano. It will be particularly difficult for the room of players who worked with him on a daily basis. The game will be an escape for many as they try to carry on his legacy this season. As camp progresses, the final spots on the offensive line will be up for grabs. If the Vikings keep 10 offensive linemen, the cut down process will be less difficult. Aviante Collins, Danny Isidora, Brian O’Neill, Colby Gossett and veteran Tom Compton would likely round out the reserve spots. If the team chooses to keep nine players on the offensive line, it would mean Collins, Gossett and Compton would be battling for the final two spots.

Collins served as an extra lineman in the Vikings’ jumbo package last year and the team was pleased with his development. He fits the mold of a guard more than a tackle due to his body profile. This could hurt him because Tom Compton has prior experience at both tackle and guard during his prior stops in Washington and Chicago. Outside of that, sixth-round pick Colby Gossett was a value selection and could develop into a future starter. It would be surprising if the Vikings decided to part ways, but the performance of others in the race could change the depth chart landscape.

Arguably no position has more depth than the cornerback group. The versatility of first-round pick Mike Hughes and the undrafted free agent signing of Holton Hill, brings two top-50 players to the room. With the coaching staff’s ability to take defensive back talent to the next level, these two additions will provide excellent second-tier depth. If the team decides to keep five cornerbacks, this is the season where veteran Marcus Sherels could miss the cut. Hughes may return punts and kicks to open another roster spot. However, keeping Sherels for one more season would provide stability as the team waits to see whether Holton Hill develops and turns things around off-the-field. Hill reportedly slid off draft boards due to character concerns, so being cautious for one year might be valuable.

Outside of the two additions, Xavier Rhodes is a blue-chip cornerback, Trae Waynes was developing well, veteran Terence Newman returned and Mackensie Alexander is on a mission to prove his worth this season. With all of this talent, the Vikings have a bright future at cornerback.

Running Back
This offseason, Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers. It leaves an open spot to fill before the regular season begins. McKinnon played a major role in the offense as a third down running back. With Dalvin Cook handling the starting duties, along with veteran Latavius Murray, a change of pace running back will be necessary. The team signed both Roc Thomas and Mike Boone in undrafted free agency. As I recently noted, they both possess unique traits. Boone creates a plethora of yards after contact, but didn’t show off all the explosiveness you’d expect. Some of this is attributed to nagging injuries, including a foot problem during his final season in Cincy. Thomas runs with more burst and agility and could potentially provide value on special teams, too. These two players both have unique skill-sets and could push for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.

Many people also forget the Vikings signed Mack Brown at the midway point of last season. Brown played at Florida and was signed by Washington in 2016. He has in-game experience from earlier in his career, including a 61-yard touchdown. Brown is a running back with great vision, burst and acceleration. He has been slightly inconsistent as a pass catcher, but has been developing in the background.

With three capable options at the position, the battle should be intriguing in late August.

Stay tuned for complete training camp coverage on VC as practices begin on Wednesday! 

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