With the Minnesota Vikings set to hold their first training camp practice in five days, FOX Sports North lists five players to keep an eye on once things get going in Mankato.
TE Bucky Hodges
It’s early, but Hodges’ 6-foot-6, 257-pound frame automatically makes him an intriguing candidate to garner headlines at training camp – for better or for worse. Selected in the sixth round in April, Hodges ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. If he flashes his athletic ability and proves to be a consistent receiver, Hodges will excite Vikings fans as a legitimate goal-line threat behind six-year veteran Kyle Rudolph. If he shows his speed but lacks the hands to regularly bring in passes and move the chains, we won’t be hearing Hodges’ name much in 2017. He’s not exactly known to be a well-rounded tight end. But the potential is definitely there.
WR Laquon Treadwell
No one needs an outstanding training camp more than Treadwell. All eyes will be on the former first-round pick to see if last year’s one-catch tally was a fluke or if he’s truly deserving of a “bust” label this early in his career. Good news for Laquon: he’ll have the chance to prove himself. Despite how crowded the position may seem, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are really the only two locks in the receiving corps. Minnesota signed Michael Floyd, who is suspended for the first four games, and took two receivers late in the draft in Rodney Adams (5th round) and Stacy Coley (7th round). Five-year veteran Jarius Wright is still under contract, as well. Treadwell will need to show he can be a consistent pass catcher and No. 3 option for quarterback Sam Bradford early in training camp, or he’ll be buried on the depth chart once again.
OL Pat Elflein
The offensive line might not be the most exciting position group to watch in Mankato, but it’s arguably the biggest unknown on the Vikings heading into the new season. Minnesota selected Elflein early in the third round, making it apparent that general manager Rick Spielman sees him as a solution to patching things up in the trenches. Now it’s up to Elflein to respond. There’s not much clarity to where he will potentially start – at guard, where he played two years at Ohio State, or in the middle, where he spent his senior year and was named the nation’s top center. Minnesota struggled in short-yardage rushing situations last season, so keep an eye on Elflein during goal-line drills – they’re usually a fan favorite to watch, anyway.
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DT Datone Jones
The Vikings stole Jones away from the enemy, as the 6-foot-4 defensive end tallied nine sacks and 73 tackles in four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Jones split time at defensive end and outside linebacker for the Packers but will have a new role in Minnesota. Head coach Mike Zimmer plans to move him to the inside of the defensive line – a position that is up for the taking, especially with fellow 2013 first-round pick Sharrif Floyd struggling to stay healthy. It will be interesting to watch how Jones handles the new position and if Zimmer’s vision will be played out for all of 2017.
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CB Trae Waynes
Hear that, Trae? That’s the sound of opportunity mixed with a little bit of expectations. Those expectations that diminished after a dismal rookie season are back for Waynes, who intercepted three passes and deflected 11 more in 15 games (with eight starts) last year, his second season. Zimmer will test Waynes in August to see if he can handle a starting cornerback spot opposite Xavier Rhodes, a position that has been mostly filled by veteran Terence Newman since 2015. Look for Waynes to make big plays in Mankato, just like his fourth-quarter interception of an Aaron Rodgers pass that sealed a 17-14 victory over the Packers in Week 2 last year.