MANKATO, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings wanted more depth and internal competition this season.
The myriad moves, bringing in 10 draft picks, signing several players at positions of need, seemed to do the trick. Now the players are noticing the difference in training camp.
“I think the biggest thing I notice that’s been different this camp from camps in the past is that there’s opportunities open for other people,” linebacker Erin Henderson said. “Coming in before you pretty much knew who was going to be on the starting defense, who was going to be on the starting offense, who was going to make the 53-man roster and who wasn’t.
“I think this year it’s kind of open. Things are up in the air. Coaches are giving different guys opportunities and different looks than they might not have gotten before. And I think its forcing people to play to their maximum potential and bring their best effort day in and day out.”
Injuries have also been a factor. But with the first preseason game a week away, it’s a good time for a rough estimate on how the depth chart shakes out with a week of training camp in the books.
Current alignment (in order): Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. What we see: Ponder has a much better understanding of the offense than he did at any point last season and has been crisp early in training camp. He’s been a bit inconsistent since the Vikings started padded practices, but that is to be expected with the pads on for the first time since last winter. Ponder is secure as the starter and has time to work out the kinks before the Sept. 9 season opener. Webb is sticking solely at quarterback this year, no longer getting reps at receiver. He’s still flashy but also still inconsistent and seems reluctant to throw at times. Rosenfels and Bethel-Thompson have been splitting the remaining reps. Bethel-Thompson has shown off a strong arm but has been inaccurate at times. Early projections: This is one position unlikely to change much, if at all, during training camp. Ponder is the no-doubt No. 1, and Webb will be the backup. Rosenfels is the veteran third quarterback, around as much as a mentor to Ponder and Webb as for his ability.
Current alignment (in order): Adrian Peterson (on the physically unable to perform list), Toby Gerhart, Lex Hilliard, Jordan Todman, Derrick Coleman. What we see: The hope is Peterson is ready to go Week 1, and he looks the part while working intensely on the side field, but he hasn’t yet practiced with the team. Gerhart came into this season stronger and in better shape — prepared for a bigger role if Peterson is out, or to spell Peterson. Hilliard, Todman and Coleman have each shown ability in training camp. Hilliard has been working with the second team because of Peterson’s injury, and is a stronger, power runner. Todman has been behind Hilliard and offers a speed element. Coleman, an undrafted rookie, is more of a power runner and is in learning mode early in camp. Early projections: Some of this will depend on Peterson’s availability at the start of the season. He is the franchise back, and Gerhart is a good fill-in option and quality backup. The battle between Hilliard and Todman could come down to special teams, with Hilliard getting an edge as a special teams player.
Current alignment (in order): Jerome Felton, Ryan D’Imperio, Matt Asiata. What we see: Felton is a veteran option the Vikings have reportedly had interest in for years. They signed the free agent to a contract, and he’s done just what has been expected. He can play special teams and has received all the first-team reps at fullback. D’Imperio was Minnesota’s lone fullback at the end of last year and is also a special teams player. Asiata shows some skill but is clearly behind in any competition. Early projections: The Vikings likely will keep onlyh one fullback, with Felton having the advantage. D’Imperio can offer something on special teams, but it probably won’t be enough to keep him around.
Current alignment (in order): Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton, Kerry Taylor, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Bryan Walters, Kamar Jorden. What we see: After Harvin, Simpson and Jenkins, the receiving group has been muddled throughout training camp. Players have been up and down the depth chart, possibly so the coaches can see how they play with certain teammates and in certain packages. The current depth chart certainly doesn’t represent what it will look like during the regular season. Simpson, acquired as a free agent from the Bengals, continues to shine. Jenkins, after a tough start to the offseason while recovering from knee surgery, has looked much better in camp and has solidified himself behind Harvin and Simpson. Taylor has received looks as the third receiver in camp. Childs made a big touchdown catch in practice Thursday but has dropped some balls. Arceneaux has been very active and noticeable in camp as well. Early projections: Harvin and Simpson are locks, though Simpson’s suspension for the first three games will alter the depth chart behind them. Jenkins seems to have a strong hold on a spot as well. Minnesota used fourth-round draft picks on Childs and Wright, so they are virtual certainties to make the team. The Vikings have liked what they have seen in Burton, too, though he was slowed by a toe injury at the start of camp. During Simpson’s suspension, Minnesota could keep an extra player, possibly Aromashodu, Taylor or Arceneaux, with Aromashodu being the most experienced of the bunch and the best able to replicate Simpson’s downfield presence.
Current alignment (in order): Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson (injured), Allen Reisner, Rhett Ellison, Mickey Shuler. What we see: Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave still plans on implementing two-tight end sets, and the alignment has been used often in training camp. Rudolph has been consistently targeted by Ponder. Carlson is a veteran signed to a five-year contract and will be the second option. But his knee sprain has also opened up opportunities for Reisner, Ellison and Shuler. Ellison has shown good hands and offers the blocking option the team needs at the position. Reisner has inherited Carlson’s reps in practice and has good hands. Shuler has also made a few quality catches in camp. Early projections: Rudolph and Carlson are set, and Ellison should stick after being drafted and assume a blocking role. A decision, if Minnesota sticks with four tight ends, could be between Reisner and Shuler, with Reisner having the edge in the depth chart right now.
Current alignment: First team — left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Charlie Johnson, center John Sullivan, right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt; second team — left tackle DeMarcus Love, left guard Chris DeGeare, center Joe Berger, right guard Geoff Schwartz and right tackle Patrick Brown; third team — left tackle Kevin Murphy, left guard Tyler Holmes, center Quentin Saulsberry, right guard Austin Pazstor and right tackle Levi Horn. Also in camp are guards Grant Cook and Bridger Buche, who were signed Saturday because of injuries. What we see: Fusco and Schwartz have been rotating at right guard, but Schwartz’s sports hernia might have effectively finished any competition there and solidified the starting lineup. Horn and Murphy have gotten second-team work with Brown and Love hurt and have both shown some ability. Berger seems entrenched at backup center, though Saulsberry has turned some heads in camp. The rest of the group appears to be just training camp depth at this point. Early projections: Right now the starting unit seems like it is set, with Schwartz’s injury taking him out of the running for the right guard spot. Schwartz, when healthy, and Berger are versatile veteran backups and will likely stay. Brown and Love could both make the team depending on how many lineman the Vikings choose to keep. If last season is any indication, Minnesota could keep four backups active and try to pass at least one player on to the practice squad. DeGeare is likely on the bubble.
Current alignment: First team — left end Brian Robison, tackle Letroy Guion, tackle Kevin Williams and right end Jared Allen; second team — left end D’Aundre Reed, tackle Fred Evans, tackle Christian Ballard and right end Nick Reed; third team — left end Ernest Owusu, tackle Tydreke Powell, tackle Chase Baker and right end Anthony Jacobs. Also in camp are tackle Trevor Guyton and end Jeff Charleston (injured). What we see: Defensive coordinator Alan Williams wants to rotate linemen often, and the depth showing through in camp might give him more reason to push the philosophy. Coaches have been pleased with Guion’s development and believe he can be stout enough against the run to complement the rest of the line. Guion was expected to compete with Fred Evans for the last starting spot, but Guion has taken all of the first-team reps in training camp. Reed has been impressive as well and could find time in certain packages as an inside pass rusher. Ballard is quick and has had a few big plays in training camp. Guyton was a seventh-round draft pick, but much of his camp work has come on special teams. Early projections: The strength of the defense last season, the defensive line won’t undergo much change other than Williams’ rotation. Guion has established himself as the final starter among the front four. Evans and Ballard are virtual locks to make the reoster, and Reed might finally get on the field after being inactive all 16 games last season despite being on the 53-man roster. If Minnesota opts to keep more depth, Reed could find a spot, though it is hard to see him taking snaps away from Allen or Robison. Guyton could stick due to his status as a rookie draft pick. Charleston also has NFL experience.
Current alignment: First team — Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson; second team — Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie and Larry Dean; third team — Everson Griffen, Audie Cole and Solomon Elimimian. Also in camp are Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes. What we see: After some concern about Brinkley as the starting middle linebacker, mostly due to health, he has taken all the snaps with the starting unit and has come up with a few big plays, specifically in run defense and delivering heavy hits. Depth is the biggest issue at linebacker. Coaches seem pleased with Mitchell and Dean, and Griffen appears to be everywhere in camp. Griffen might only be lining up with the third-team linebackers as he learns the position, but he will get on the field this year as a linebacker and pass rusher on the line. Cole was a seventh-round draft pick but is working with the third team and is still learning. Minnesota might bring in more players throughout training camp as evaluations are made and cuts begin around the rest of the NFL. Early projections: The starters seem to be set now that Brinkley has had the chance to practice on an everyday basis. Greenway and Henderson are set and have been the nickel linebackers during camp. Griffen is a lock, and Mitchell appears to be set, too. Other spots on the active roster right now would come down to Dean and Cole, if no one else is added before the regular season.
Current alignment (in order): Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Harrison Smith, Eric Frampton, Andrew Sendejo, Robert Blanton. What we see: Williams sees his safeties as interchangeable pieces and isn’t worried about a free or strong safety label. Sanford has been very active — and vocal — in camp as he looks to hold on to a starting spot. Williams has chosen to keep Sanford and Raymond, who finished as the starters last season, as the first-team safeties during training camp and is making first-round pick Smith earn his way. Smith has worked with the starters at times but is most often on the second-team with Frampton. Smith has been around the ball but will need to flash a bit more to earn the starting spot. Blanton, drafted in the fifth round, is making the transition from cornerback, and the task is even more difficult as a rookie and because of a lingering hamstring injury that has kept him out of practices most of the first week. Early projections: Raymond and Sanford would appear to be the starters right now, but it’s hard to imagine Smith won’t eventually break through as a starter, possibly before the regular season rolls around. Sanford and Raymond appear to be safe even if one of them is a backup. Raymond should progress in his second season, and Sanford’s leadership among the defensive backs and ability on special teams keeps him involved. Blanton will be on the roster, making it tough for Frampton or Sendejo to stick.
Current alignment (in order): Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Chris Carr, Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton, Reggie Jones, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Bobby Felder, Corey Gatewood, Chris Stroud. What we see: After being active early in camp, Winfield has rested some the past few days to preserve the wear-and-tear on his body. Cook has made some good plays in camp and appears focused on turning around his career after injuries and last year’s legal issues. Burton has found his way into first-team work at times while Winfield rests. Jones might be the most surprising defensive back in camp and has put himself into position to make the roster. Robinson has been slowed by a hamstring injury but has returned and has time to establish himself. Early projections: Williams said Saturday that the depth has improved so much that he can see some players Minnesota releases catching on with other teams. Winfield, Cook, Carr, Bowman, and Robinson all are likely set to make the roster. Robinson can help in the return game, and Bowman is a quality special teams player. Sherels has the lead for the punt return job but would likely have to be able to figure into the cornerback mix too to earn a spot. Sherels, Burton and Jones could be fighting for one or two spots.
Current alignment (in order): Kick returners — Harvin, Sherels, Wright, Walters, Robinson, Taylor, Jones and Todman; punt returners — Sherels, Wright, Walters, Robinson, Taylor and Jones. What we see: The Vikings are having an open tryout for the return spots. The only known right now is Harvin is the team’s top kick returner and his usage will be determined on a game-to-game basis. After him, it’s a big mix and the Vikings are giving several players a shot. Even at punt returner, where Sherels is back after having the job last year, he isn’t a lock. Coordinator Mike Priefer did say that Sherels is the No. 1 option for now. There haven’t been many live-hitting return chances, so it’s hard to get a read on how each player is faring. The preseason games will play a big part in the decision-making process. Early projections: Harvin will be used to provide a spark, and the Vikings probably would like Robinson (kick returns) and Wright (punt returns) to grab hold of the spots with their positions on the team set as third- and fourth-round picks, respectively. The other options could come down to whether they make the team in their respective base offense or defensive positions. If good options don’t develop, Sherels will still get a chance to make the team.