Around Winter Park there is an excitement. As the Packers' hold on the NFC North title continues to be disintegrated by free agent losses and the Vikings, Bears and Lions all look to improve their stock, the division looks much more wide open than it did a few months ago when the Packers had the division essentially locked up by Halloween.
To that end, the new and old Vikings will get their chance to work out together starting next month. VU has received the dates for the Vikings off-season camps, which Mike Tice and his coaching staff are eager to get to with new players looking to mesh with the returning team.
The team's primary minicamp will be conducted May 9-11, with developmental camps scheduled for May 28-30, June 2-5 and June 9-12.
That will be in preparation for the start of the real deal, when training camp opens in Mankato with players reporting July 25.
* The Vikings continue to shore up the defense, signing another cornerback Monday. Ron Israel, who was expected to be drafted last year coming out of Notre Dame before suffering a severe hamstring injury, signed a two-year deal for what VU is told is near league minimum with a modest signing bonus. Israel had reduced his wish list to two teams -- the Vikes and Packers -- before opting to come here.
* While Israel is listed as a corner, don't be surprised to see him lined up at minicamp playing safety. He is expected to get a shot at earning a starting job at safety, which is looking more like an open competition all the time.
* The Packers were officially weakened Monday, as Vonnie Holliday signed a five-year, $21 million deal with the Chiefs that included a $4 million signing bonus. However, the deal is really more like a two-year, $6.3 million deal, since the third year includes a $5 million roster bonus that will likely result in either the contract being re-worked or Holliday being cut after two years.
* Punter Leo Araguz will visit Winter Park today.
* Former Viking Dwayne Rudd signed with the Bucs Monday, which is good news for Vikes fans, since his other primary suitors were the Packers and the Lions.
* More good news for the Vikings. Marshall QB Byron Leftwich held his personal workout Monday and dismissed naysayers who speculated he had a broken ankle resulting from a previous foot injury. He threw about 70 passes and looked very sharp and ran a 4.85 40-yard dash. Perhaps most heartening for the Vikings, who want someone to draft Leftwich in the first six picks to leave the Vikings with more defensive options, was that he weighed in at 236 pounds -- 13 pounds less than his playing weight last season.
Key Offseason Dates Announced
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