Top position battles at Vikings training camp 2017
FOX Sports North
Football is back, and the Minnesota Vikings have plenty of questions to answer heading into training camp. Which of the Vikings' new running backs will lead the rotation, or will Jerick McKinnon hang onto his starting job? Who's taking over for Captain Munnerlyn as the Vikings' slot cornerback? Is it finally receiver Laquon Treadwell's time to shine?
We examine those questions and more in our breakdown of the top position battles of training camp.
Running back: Jerick McKinnon vs. Dalvin Cook vs. Latavius Murray
The Vikings are expected to put all of their backs to work while attempting to jumpstart one of the league's worst running games. Murray excelled in short-yardage situations last year and signed a three-year, $15 million deal ($8.5 million guaranteed) in the offseason, the richest contract handed out to a running back over the offseason. Cook was a dynamic rusher in college and is a likely candidate to lead the trio after the Vikings traded up to nab him in the second round of the draft. McKinnon benefits from three years of experience in the Vikings' offense, and could carve out a role for himself as a third-down guy. During organized team activities, Cook got much of the work with the first-team while Murray nursed an ankle injury, potentially giving him a significant edge as training camp approaches, especially until Murray can get back to full health.
Linebacker: Emmanuel Lamur vs. Edmond Robinson
Chad Greenway's spot as the Vikings' third linebacker is up for grabs. Greenway was on the field for 38.7 percent of their defensive snaps last year and leaves plenty of work on the table following his retirement. Vikings.com reported that Robinson spent much of the offseason workouts lining up alongside Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks with the first-team defense. Robinson's progress could be bad news for Lamur, a six-year veteran who played under head coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati but struggled last season. His $2.45 million salary in 2017 in nonguaranteed, meaning that his place on the roster could be in jeopardy, especially considering Robinson's contract status. He'll cost just $632,078 against the cap this season.
Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke vs. Case Keenum
Assuming that Teddy Bridgewater starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, Heinicke and Keenum are the only real contenders to back up Sam Bradford this season. And with an injury-prone quarterback like Bradford under center -- playing behind an unproven offensive line -- it's best to have a solid backup. Keenum brings four years of pro experience to the table and completed 60.9 percent of his passes in 10 appearances for the Los Angeles Rams last season, throwing for 2,201 yards and nine touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Hardly inspiring numbers, but likely enough to help the Vikings hold serve in the event of a Bradford injury. Heinicke is a familiar face around camp after two years with the Vikings, and while he has yet to see the field the former Old Dominion quarterback has the tools to do a serviceable job after putting up big numbers in college.
Kicker: Kai Forbath vs. Marshall Koehn
The Vikings have learned this lesson time and time again: Kickers matter. A lot. Forbath replaced embattled kicker Blair Walsh last season and went 15-for-15, mostly on kicks from 20-40 yards out. He attempted just one field goal from more than 50 yards out, which is where Koehn comes in. The Iowa product went 28-for-36 in college, converting a game-winning 57-yard kick to help the Hawkeyes to a win over Pittsburgh as a senior. Koehn spent some time with the Miami Dolphins during the preseason last year and worked out for the Vikings the week before Walsh was cut.
Center: Nick Easton vs. Pat Elflein
With Joe Berger expected to move to right guard, third-round pick Elflein and Easton, who signed with Minnesota in 2015, are on deck for this key spot on the Vikings' rebuilt offensive line. The Vikings traded up to land Elflein, who was consistently rated as one of the top centers in the draft after switching to the position before his senior season at Ohio State. The Vikings will want to figure things out fast with newcomers Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff stepping in at tackle, and will look to give this unit plenty of time to gel before the season begins.
Wide receiver: Laquon Treadwell vs. Michael Floyd
This could become a moot point if Zimmer follows through on his threat to cut Floyd over his latest spat of legal trouble, but for now he remains Treadwell's primary competition for the No. 3 spot in the Vikings' wide receiver corps. Treadwell will likely get an early shot to lock down a larger role with Floyd set to serve a four-game suspension, but questions remain following his virtually nonexistent rookie season. Floyd was a productive receiver in Arizona despite his disappointing exit last season, topping the 1,000-yard mark in 2013. Still, Treadwell's issues are reportedly more mental than physical, and a bit more study could be all the former first-rounder needs to start realizing his potential.
Nickel corner: Mackensie Alexander vs. Terence Newman
This is less a battle between two players and more a challenge for Alexander, who should be given every opportunity to step into the nickel role after Captain Munnerlyn's departure. Newman could start at nickel after a standout season opposite Xavier Rhodes, but a step forward from Alexander could lessen the soon-to-be 39-year-old's load, and allow the Vikings to move him into more of a depth role. If fellow corner Trae Waynes can be counted upon in Newman's (potentially) former position, the Vikings' elder statesman could instead serve as a mentor and versatile depth player while handing the reigns to his younger teammates.
Strong safety: Andrew Sendejo vs. Jayron Kearse
The position opposite two-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith is Sendejo’s job to lose. It’s up to Kearse to put pressure on him. Sendejo has started 40 games at strong safety the past four seasons with mixed results. He occasionally takes bad angles on big plays and isn’t known to be a ball hawk (four career interceptions). Kearse, selected in the seventh round in 2016, started at safety against the Bears on Halloween last season when Sendejo was out with an ankle injury. Following the night’s theme, his first start was frightening, to say the least. Kearse was burned on a few long scampers by Chicago’s Jordan Howard and was replaced by Anthony Harris midway through the game. But Kearse’s size at safety (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) is intriguing enough for Minnesota to give him another extended look.