MANKATO, Minn. — There is a different feeling around Mankato and training camp for the Minnesota Vikings coming off the team’s surprise playoff last season. One of the biggest differences from a year ago is on the field, where it seems as if Minnesota doesn’t have many true competitions for roster spots or starting positions.
Coaches will always say every player is performing for their spot on the roster, and there is some truth to the response. In the NFL and without guaranteed contracts, players need to continue to prove themselves and there are surprise cuts each season. Yet, the Vikings are trying to make another playoff run and are nearly set at the starting positions and seemingly only have one or two — and sometimes no — jobs left for the “training camp battles.” Minnesota also kicks off padded practices this week, which is sure to offer some more separation between players.
With two days of practice in Mankato in the books, here’s an early look at how the depth chart has lined through the first couple of days based on observation from practice, with the usual caveats that some players have alternated and changes are bound to take place:
–Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, James Vandenberg
Early Thoughts: No real surprises here, and none likely coming. None of the quarterbacks have looked particularly sharp early, but this depth chart was set the minute Cassel signed. Minnesota will give Ponder every chance to prove he can be a long-term starter. Cassel is the reliable veteran and steady backup. Bethel-Thompson would seem to have an edge as the third quarterback.
–Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Jerodis Williams, Bradley Randle
–(fullback) Jerome Felton, Zach Line
Early thoughts: Peterson is getting a good amount of work, despite talk of possibility limiting him. Maybe his limited time will come in preseason games. Asiata has the availability to play fullback as well, but after the team runs through the first- and second- teams with fullbacks, Asiata is the first of the running backs to go out of a single-back set in many drills. Williams and Randle have rotated at the back end during drills and are in an uphill battle to make the roster.
– Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, LaMark Brown, Adam Thielen, Erik Highsmith
– Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Joe Webb, Chris Summers, Rodney Smith
Early thoughts: While the Vikings might not stick simply to the flanker and split end positions, they’re basically split for this exercise. Jennings and Simpson, as expected, have been working with the first-team with Jennings at flanker and Simpson at split end. They’ve been followed in the respective spots in the preceding order. After a good first day of training with several spectacular catches, running backs, receivers and tight ends suffered from too many drops on the second day. Webb is certainly in the thick of the competition and has shown good hands the first two days, while looking much more comfortable in his transition than he did during the offseason program.
–Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Colin Anderson
Early thoughts: Another position where there really aren’t any shocking developments. Rudolph is the starter and the team will probably rotate Carlson and Ellison in the two tight-end formations it uses. Carlson is the receiving option, Ellison the choice for blocking assignments. Ford has the edge on the rookie Anderson after being a part of the practice squad last year
–(left tackle) Matt Kalil, Kevin Murphy, DeMarcus Love
–(left guard) Charlie Johnson, Jeff Baca, Tyler Holmes
–(center) John Sullivan, Joe Berger, Camden Wentz
–(right guard) Brandon Fusco, Seth Olsen, Travis Bond
–(right tackle) Phil Loadholt, Brandon Keith, Troy Kropog
Early thoughts: The starting offensive line is set, though the early arrangement of the second- and third-teams might be telling. DeMarcus Love has yet to play a game in his first two NFL seasons and has been behind Murphy in practice. Keith, an offseason addition, has been at second-team right tackle over the holdover Kropog. Fifth-round pick Jeff Baca is on the second-team with free-agent signee Olsen.
–(left end) Brian Robison, Lawrence Jackson, George Johnson, Marquis Jackson
–(nose tackle) Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Chase Baker, Anthony McCloud
–(3-technique tackle) Kevin Williams, Christian Ballard, Sharrif Floyd, Everett Dawkins
–(right end) Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, D’Aundre Reed, Collins Ukwu
Early thoughts: Here’s where the alternating really comes into play. Guion was working with the first-team in Friday’s practice, but Evans was there on Saturday. After splitting time last season, it’s clear the two will be battling for reps again. There likely isn’t much to make of Floyd, the first-round pick, on the third-team for now. As you’ll see with Xavier Rhodes later, the Vikings like to make their rookies earn their spots. Though Floyd won’t start over Williams this season, he’ll have a good chance to supplant Ballard as the backup. It’s hard to make much of the fourth team, or how they are lining up, through two days of practice because they haven’t received as much regular drill time as the first three lines.
–(strongside) Chad Greenway, Larry Dean, Tyrone McKenzie
–(middle) Erin Henderson, Audie Cole, Michael Mauti
Early thoughts: Bishop is being made to earn his spot as well, and is starting in a reserve role as he learns Minnesota’s defense. For now, Mitchell has still been working with the first-team, as he did during the offseason program. By the end of training camp, it’s still hard to envision Bishop not carving out his own starting spot. Cole, in his second season, has been getting the second-team reps in the middle with the rookie Mauti mixing in with the third team. Larry Dean has been working with the second team, but his job depends, as it always has, on whether they keep him for his special teams’ work. The second linebacker spot next to Greenway in the nickel defense has been Henderson’s.
–Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo, Robert Blanton, Darius Eubanks, Brandan Bishop
Early thoughts: You can call Smith the free safety and Sanford the strong safety, but the two spots are fairly interchangeable in the Vikings’ defense. Sanford seems to have a pretty solid grasp on the starting spot he inherited after Raymond’s injury last season and never let go. Sendejo and Blanton have split time with Raymond so far with the second-team. Same goes for Eubanks and Bishop playing in a rotation.
–Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes, A.J. Jefferson, Jacob Lacey, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels, Bobby Felder, Roderick Williams, Greg McCoy
Early thoughts: Again, it’s not worth splitting up the cornerbacks per side. Cook is the established starter and Robinson has been getting the work with the first-team when the Vikings only have two cornerbacks on the field. Robinson is the second-year player and the coaches are making Rhodes, the rookie, earn a starting spot and not just give one to him. Rhodes has been on the outside, with Robinson shifting inside to the slot, in the first-team nickel defense. Jefferson and Rhodes have been the second-team corners, with Lacey and Burton working on the third-team. Jefferson, Lacey and Burton have been the second-team nickel. After the first six, it’s been hard to get a read on the other four based on the limited reps. Sherels’ route to a roster spot, again, is as a returner.
–(kickoff) Patterson, Sherels, Jefferson, S. Burton, Robinson, McCoy, Webb, Wright, Randle, J. Williams
–(punt) Sherels, Wright, Patterson, Robinson, McCoy, Webb, S. Burton, Randle, J. Williams, Simpson
Early thoughts: Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer likes to run through as many options as possible and has been doing so all summer. Several players have been getting reps at the return spots. The order has also been hard to establish. But, Priefer had said coming into camp that Sherels was his top punt returner and he mentioned Saturday that Patterson is considered the top kickoff returner right now. Those two will have to hold on to their jobs. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Patterson won’t get the chance to remain the kickoff returner, even if it comes down to splitting time with someone else. Sherels is fighting for his position and his roster spot. Simpson has always taken reps, but is not seriously considered an option. The Vikings are likely hoping Wright, Patterson or Robinson end up winning the punt-return job.