Kyle Rudolph
Vikings 2015 training camp primer
Kyle Rudolph

Vikings 2015 training camp primer

Published Jul. 23, 2015 1:00 p.m. ET

There are multiple reasons for optimism as the Minnesota Vikings near the start of training camp.

The Vikings boast a largely talented and youthful roster, with the average age of their projected starters being 27.1 years old. Minnesota also has eight total starters that are 25 or younger.

The purple and gold also possess a second-year (yet well-traveled) head coach, Mike Zimmer, that players, by all accounts, would run through a wall for.


In short, the 2015 Vikings are hungry, with skill in ample supply.

Still, Minnesota has much to prove on the field, following last year's 7-9 campaign. And, the Vikings' schedule and division are largely unforgiving.

As a result, this will likely be a season in which Minnesota has little margin for error.

With that in mind, let's put Zimmer's roster under the microscope, as it sets to descend upon training camp in Mankato.

Newcomer to watch: MLB Eric Kendricks

Yes, first-round draft pick Trae Waynes, a cornerback, will garner lots of attention in 2015. And, right tackle T.J. Clemmings might also be counted on. Yet, those two rookies play positions where they have the luxury of easing into things at the season's outset, if necessary.

The same can't be said for Kendricks, who almost certainly must play heavy snaps this season -- and produce, to boot. The Vikings simply don't have much depth behind Kendricks at the middle linebacker spot, and there are question marks around him among Minnesota's outside linebackers (such as: Does Chad Greenway have much left in the tank at 32 years of age?).

Thus, Kendricks, a UCLA product the Vikings chose in the second round last spring, will need to make an impact virtually from Day 1 in Minnesota. At 6-foot, 232 pounds, Kendricks is mildly undersized, but had intriguing production as a collegian. The 23-year-old won both the Butkus and Lott awards in 2014, and is the proud record-holder in terms of career tackles at UCLA, with 481. The Vikings must hope Kendricks' athleticism (4.61 in the 40) stands out immediately.

Story line to watch: The strong safety spot

Now that Adrian Peterson's contract has been restructured, giving the six-time Pro Bowl running back $20 million guaranteed, we'll assume he's content and ready to produce respectably. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr bears watching, after being sidelined in recent months to rehab a knee issue. And left tackle Matt Kalil will be put under a microscope, too, as he attempts to bounce back from a season of inconsistency in 2014.

That said, considering the pass-happy nature of the NFL in 2015, the Vikings' secondary situation could prove most problematic this fall, if a satisfactory answer isn't promptly found at strong safety. Minnesota appears to have an All-Pro in the making at free safety in Harrison Smith -- the 26-year-old has 255 total tackles and 10 interceptions in three NFL seasons -- but Zimmer's defense features nothing but uncertainty at strong safety.

The current starting candidates at strong safety: Antone Exum (24 years old), Robert Blanton (25) and, to a lesser extent, undrafted rookie Anthony Harris (23). If the season started today, Exum, a 6-foot, 219-pound thumper, would probably start. Blanton has been a bit inconsistent in his pro career, but performed decently last season (106 total tackles, one interception) and has proven to be a fairly versatile option in the secondary while with Minnesota. Someone needs to step to the forefront among the aforementioned group, or else opposing quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers could make Minnesota pay.

Underdog who could make the team: Safety Anthony Harris


Sat., July 25 Players report to camp, at Minnesota State Mankato
Sun., July 26 First training-camp practice in Mankato (walk-through), 10:30 a.m.

Sat., Aug. 1 7:15 p.m. practice followed by team introductions/fireworks

Sun., Aug. 9 Preseason opener, Hall of Fame Game vs. Pittsburgh, 7 p.m.
Fri., Aug. 14 Team breaks camp, returns to Twin Cities
Tues., Sept. 1 Roster cutdown to 75 players
Thurs., Sept. 3 Preseason finale, at Tennessee, 6 p.m.
Sat., Sept. 5 Final roster cutdown, to 53 players

Speaking of strong safeties, the Vikings feel they mined a potential diamond in the rough when they signed Harris as an undrafted free agent. After all, Harris, a 6-1, 183-pound 23-year-old, performed like a future star as a collegian at Virginia.

Last season, Harris was fifth in the ACC with 108 tackles and was a team captain for the Cavaliers. He pulled down 10 interceptions over the last two seasons. All told, Harris was a three-year starter for Virginia. He had the credentials of a possible third-round draft pick in some pundits' eyes, but Harris went undrafted due to concerns stemming from a right shoulder injury that required surgery in December. Harris had multiple NFL suitors immediately after the draft last spring, but chose the Vikings with an eye on securing early playing time.

"He's a very instinctive, smart, very, very smart, very communicative safety," Zimmer said of Harris. "He has a lot of the traits of the starting safeties in this league."

The pressure is on: CB Captain Munnerlyn

It's easy to forget that Munnerlyn is still just 27 years old. It's easy to forget that fact because the 5-9 veteran looked past his prime last season, when he was beat by opposing slot receivers with relative ease at times.

Munnerlyn -- who had two interceptions in 2014 and counts as a $4.33 million cap hit this season -- made a puzzling offseason admission when he acknowledged he could've listened more attentively to Zimmer's coaching last fall. Fortunately for the veteran cornerback, he claims to have worked harder than ever in the offseason, starting his winter workouts much earlier than he had in the past, in an effort to retain a spot in Minnesota's secondary as a nickel back.

"Coming in last year, I wasn't in the best shape," Munnerlyn said in the spring. "I didn't play my best football. I pulled (a) hamstring early. . . . I just wasn't myself. So I had to go back to the drawing board. Gone back to the drawing board and I'm excited to play again, and ready to play."

Star in the making: WR Charles Johnson

Suddenly, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has multiple intriguing options in the passing game. Minnesota's aerial attack was fortified with the offseason addition of 28-year-old Mike Wallace (he of the 375 career NFL receptions), the supposed return to health of starting tight end Kyle Rudolph and even the drafting of rookie pass catchers Stefon Diggs (of Maryland) and MyCole Pruitt (a tight end from Southern Illinois).

On the other hand, the Vikings also have some unproven receivers, judging by the 2014 disappearing act of Cordarrelle Patterson and the inconsistency of speedster Jarius Wright (eight games with two catches or less in 2014). That helps explain why Johnson, a 6-2 former Green Bay Packer, became such a beacon of hope last season, when he finished with 31 receptions for 475 yards (15.3 yards per catch) after Minnesota plucked him off the scrap heap and threw him into action in October.

If Bridgewater is to take a significant leap in Year 2 leading the Vikings offense, Wallace and Johnson will have to be the key cogs to get him there. Wallace has a fairly established yearly output at this point (62.5 receptions, for 972 yards, on average), while Johnson still seems to have untapped potential. In the last seven games of the 2014 campaign, Bridgewater targeted Johnson 47 times, so you can bet the lanky receiver will get plenty of chances to star in 2015.

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