In: Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Robert Blanton
Out: Eric Frampton, Andrew Sendejo
Analysis: Now that rookie first-rounder Smith has made his way into the starting lineup, the decision comes down to starting Raymond or Sanford. Coaches have said they would like to have one player win the job and be the full-time starter and not have the competition turn into a rotation. Raymond is a second-year player who has good range. Sanford started 15 games last year but struggles in pass coverage and is better at stopping the run. Sanford is also a standout special teams player. Raymond could win the starting spot with an eye to the future. Blanton is a rookie who has been slow to get back from a hamstring injury, but Minnesota probably wouldn’t expose the fifth-rounder to waivers in an attempt to get him to the practice squad. Frampton’s run with the team could be over. He’s a strong special teams player but hasn’t played much on defense in the past.
In: Kicker Blair Walsh, punter Chris Kluwe, long snapper Cullen Loeffler
Analysis: The specialist jobs were never in doubt. The Vikings didn’t bring in competition for Walsh, Kluwe or Loeffler. They signed Loeffler to a long-term deal last year, and he’s one of the league’s best long snappers. Kluwe is still an effective punter and is the holder on kickoffs. Walsh has a strong leg, which is key for Minnesota in its attempt to get more touchbacks and have better kick coverage units. The rookie must show consistency on field-goal attempts, however. Sherels, if he makes the roster, will be the top punt returner and the kick returner when the coaches decide to rest Harvin for use on offense. Harvin is the team’s best kick returner and he could be used more this season in that area than he was last year, but he won’t be the full-time returner. Sherels should make the team because he’s sure-handed, and securing the ball is the most important thing to coordinator Mike Priefer. But the Vikings would probably like Wright and/or Robinson to prove they can be effective returners and show good ball security.
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