Developmental Camp Notes: Day One

Head coach Mike Tice is big on work ethic, and the dedication of his players showed today with the first of 11 voluntary developmental camp practices. Only three players were missing, each with a legitimate excuse, and a few of the injured players from earlier this month were competing in drills.

At this point in Mike Tice's rebuilding of the Vikings and after the major portion of free agency and the draft, there aren't many battles for starting positions on the depth chart. Players are always challenged, but this year the starters -- probably on both sides of the ball -- are as talented as secure as the starters have been in the last four years.

Most of the positions that needed an upgrade got it though March free agency or the draft. The one position that still might need it -- safety -- will likely get upgraded in June.

So what does that leave for the Vikings' developmental camps over the next three weeks? Players across the board are striving to get better, to get acquainted with new coaches and teammates, and in the case of free agents they were getting accustomed to a new system.

That is why it was so impressive to see everyone that could attend a voluntary developmental camp out on the field. The only missing players were those in NFL Europe and middle linebacker Greg Biekert, running back Onterrio Smith and wide receiver Keenan Howry. Each had their reasons.

Biekert's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery is progressing, according to Tice, but he won't be cleared to practice until Friday. He is expected to fly in tomorrow and take part in limited practice (one-on-one drills) for last session this week.

The story on Smith and Howry was more frustrating for Tice. Since Oregon doesn't finish its school year until June 12, rules prohibit either from attending the developmental camp practices, which coincidentally end June 12.

But aside from those unavoidable absences, every other player was there.

Wide receiver Derrick Alexander participated in most of the practice and looks to be on his way to a full recovery.

Michael Bennett didn't participate in drills because of his offseason foot surgery, but he was able to jog from station to station.

* Willie Howard continued to be sidelined, and the Vikings were in need of adding another defensive lineman to keep a good rotation of players in practices. Because of that, defensive line coach/defensive coordinator George O'Leary worked out two rookie prospects after practice today -- Tom Farrington (6-5, 275) of Augustana and Kane Anderson (6-4, 250) of New Hampshire. Tice said only one of them would be signed if the Vikings liked what they saw. That would give the team the desired 12 defensive linemen, plus Howard, entering training camp.
* Kelly Campbell was receiving a heavy dose of work as the No. 3 wide receiver.
* Wide receiver Cedric James, who has been limited because by injuries since his rookie season, practiced at full speed.
* Kicker Hayden Epstein, who had knee surgery following the last game of the regular season, will kick field goals tomorrow but will continue to be on the sidelines during kickoffs, according to Tice.
* The Vikings added linebacker Gavin Walls (6-foot-2, 225 pounds), a rookie out of Arkansas, to their roster.
* It's no surprise anymore that safety Lethon Flowers is expected to be released by Pittsburgh with the June 1 veteran cuts, but the Vikings will face competition for him. He has already scheduled a visit to Denver. Being a Georgia Tech alum, however, might give the Vikings an edge, as their coaching staff has numerous ties to Yellow Jackets, including O'Leary. O'Leary was the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 1994, and took over as head coach for the final three games of that season, which was Flowers' last collegiate season.

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