5 things Vikings hope to see at minicamp
The Minnesota Vikings feel they have benefitted from a full offseason, able to implement systems and work side-by-side with their players after missing all of last year's program because of the lockout.
Obviously, the loss of last offseason played a part in the team's further slide to the league bottom and a 3-13 record. Coach Leslie Frazier feels a different energy this summer. Whether it pays off will only be seen later, but at least the coaches and players feel good about the time they've been able to put in this offseason.
"Words cannot express how good this feels to be able to go through an offseason, to be able to plan things and see them come to fruition," Frazier said at the start of organized team activities. "And time will tell how beneficial it is for our team and for our staff, but in my mind, it is tremendously beneficial and we hope to show the fans that when the Fall rolls around how beneficial this offseason has been."
The Vikings' offseason program comes to a close this week at the team's facilities at Winter Park with the three-day mandatory minicamp. This week will be the last impression players can make on coaches before they report to training camp in Mankato on July 16. Here are five things the coaches and staff will be looking for at this week's minicamp:
1. Seeing the return of the stars.
Frazier has lauded the attendance of players during the offseason program, with participation at the voluntary workouts and OTAs running well over 90 percent. But several key players have been noticeably absent at times. Defensive end Jared Allen, running back Adrian Peterson, receiver Percy Harvin, linebacker Chad Greenway, cornerback Antoine Winfield and center John Sullivan have missed all or part of the past three week's of OTAs for varying reasons.
Peterson won't participate in practice as he still works his way back from December knee surgery, and Greenway might be away tending to a family matter. But everyone else should be practicing, giving the Vikings their closest look at the complete roster to date. The offense and defense take on an entirely different look with the return of stars and leaders in Allen, Harvin, Greenway, Winfield and Sullivan. Although the program has been voluntary up to this point, it will still likely be a relief to coaches to have everyone back together again.
2. What does the defense look like with the league's top pass rusher?
While it's hard to take too much stock of anything that happens in June, in non-padded practices, Allen's return will boost the effectiveness of the defense. Allen has not participated in any of the voluntary workouts, instead choosing to train at home in Arizona. Allen's one of the few Vikings that has earned the benefit of the doubt, as well, when it comes to offseason conditioning. Allen came through with a career-high 22 sacks, narrowly missing the all-time single-season record despite last offseason being wiped out.
Training back home is nothing new for Allen, but his time to mesh with his teammates will also be important to Minnesota's success or failure this season. Everson Griffen has been working with the first team at Allen's familiar right end spot, but Allen will assume his usual role, joining a first-team defensive line with Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion and Brian Robison.
3. How far along is Percy Harvin after April shoulder surgery?
Harvin missed the first week of OTAs before returning to practice. However, he practiced one day and has been missing since. Harvin has intimated that it could be due in part to coming back from shoulder surgery. Frazier said Harvin's shoulder checks out with the trainers and said it's been a "voluntary" situation. Harvin will probably be back this week, but how much he can participate is still to be determined. His situation will be watched to see how far along he's come.
Much like Allen, Harvin's return will also shape the offensive alignment. Without Harvin available, free-agent addition Jerome Simpson has become one of quarterback Christian Ponder's go-to targets as has tight end Kyle Rudolph. Second-year receiver Stephen Burton has also received some first-team reps during 11-on-11 drills in the OTAs. So, seeing the offense with the explosive Harvin will add more insight about how the offense might work.
4. Who will start training camp as starters in several position battles?
There will still be a lot to be determined during training camp down in Mankato, but minicamp will go a long way to designating who has the early line on starting jobs heading into training camp. There are early leaders at most of the team's position battles, but there are still several spots up for grabs.
Along the offensive line, the only issue left to resolve seems to be the starter at right guard. Second-year player Brandon Fusco has been getting the first-team reps, but Geoff Schwartz will also get a shot. Jerome Felton has been the lead fullback, but last year's fullback Ryan D'Imperio and draft-pick Rhett Ellison will also compete for the times Minnesota goes to a fullback set.
On defense, Guion likely has the early lead to be the starting defensive tackle next to Williams. Fred Evans is also in the mix. Jasper Brinkley has to prove he is healthy enough to man the middle linebacker spot. There are also several players in line for the third cornerback spot, likely held right now by Chris Carr. The biggest unknown is probably at safety, where several players have had a chance to run with the first team. Rookie Harrison Smith and last year's starters Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford will try to lock down the starting spots.
5. How does Blair Walsh handle more pressure?
The Vikings cut Ryan Longwell, putting a lot of faith in rookie kicker Blair Walsh. Walsh has had mixed success during OTAs and Frazier said last week the team will be trying to increase the pressure on Walsh during minicamp and training camp to see how he adapts. Walsh needs to show he is ready to kick in the NFL and can be consistent. Frazier said the team won't bring in a kicker to challenge Walsh during training camp. That could change if Walsh struggles. The spotlight will be on him at times during minicamp. He has to show he is ready to handle it. Expect more situations like last week, where Minnesota ended practice by lining up Walsh for a 40-yard field goal after the offense went 3-and-out during 11-on-11 drills.
Those types of situations are what the Vikings will probably try to simulate to see if Walsh can show consistency on field goals. He will also need to prove it as the only kickoff option.
Follow Brian Hall on Twitter.