Triple Duty

While Nick Rogers isn't expecting to be a full-time starter this year, his duties are expanding, as the Vikings are looking to use his athletic ability to enhance their defense at different positions.

Nick Rogers' athleticism and feel for the game are making it hard to pin him to one position. So this year, with the addition of veteran Chris Claiborne to the linebacker ranks, the plan is to let Rogers' instincts come forward -- whether that is on special teams, at defensive end or linebacker.

He continues to work in practices as a backup to Claiborne on the strong side, but he is also seeing duty at defensive end in nickel situations. Oh, and he is expecting to be part of the goal-line defense and a heavy contributor on special teams.

You wouldn't think all of those responsibilities would be handed to a second-year player who admits he was a little overwhelmed as a starting linebacker in his rookie season, but the coaches continue to be intrigued with the possibilities Rogers brings.

"I did feel rushed, but I had to step up," Rogers said of his experience starting 11 games as a rookie linebacker last year. "Sometimes that's how it is. I would have liked to have played special teams and learned Sam linebacker from looking at somebody else, but that's not how it worked."

It will work that way this year with Claiborne the undisputed starter on the strong side and Rogers his main backup, and his progress is evident in position coach Brian Baker's minicamp assessment of him. "Nick is light years ahead of where he was last year because at least he knows what a linebacker stance is, which last year he barely knew that," Baker told VU.

Rogers has learned plenty of positions in the last six years between his days at Georgia Tech and his rookie season with the Vikings. In fact, he may have played more positions in college than any other current Viking. His list?

"I came into college as a running back. I got recruited as an athlete," Rogers said "At first I was at fullback, then they moved me to tailback. And then I played a little safety -- I didn't play it in a game, but I was on the scout team -- linebacker, then defensive end, so at first I was just like, ‘Golly, when am I going to find my position?' I finally found my position at defensive end, but playing all those positions can only help you understand defense because you understand every aspect. I understand where the safety plays, what he has, how the linebacker plays and what he does, and what the linemen do. So I understand that if I'm not covering up the C gap, then it's going to be hard for the linebackers to make a tackle. If I have the C gap, then he has the B gap. It's just a progression like that."

So now is Rogers a defensive end or a linebacker? Well, both -- at least for now. He has been seeing time at left defensive end in nickel situations and has gained an appreciation for both positions.

"I like defensive end because it's more your athletic ability and you're dealing with your hands," he told VU. "I'm a little bit smaller, so I can't play it for four downs. I love using my speed and getting sacks. I love that. At linebacker, I like covering guys and having a little bit of space where I go at running backs. I like contact. I like them both, but if I would do one I think I would stick to linebacker because I've got pretty good size for it, pretty good speed. At defensive end I would only be a third-down defensive end."

Baker told Rogers to keep learning the linebacker position in the offseason through film study, and Rogers sounds content to learn while occasionally spelling Claiborne and to contribute as a nickel defensive end and on special teams.

All total, Rogers might be as busy as he was last year as he tries to find a full-time role that allows him to use his athletic ability. It could be that defensive coordinator George O'Leary's experiment with a situational 3-4 defense could help Rogers define that role, and Rogers likes the idea giving the offense a different look.

"I think it (the 3-4) will be used a good amount, because the more you give another team as far as different looks, it's more they've got to prepare for," Roger said. "A lot of times you can do different blitzes out of base and you can do different blitzes out of the 3-4. There are different looks for the defensive line and the running backs, so I think the more you can do, the better. How much we're going to use it, I'm not sure."

It's also far from determined exactly how much Rogers will be used -- even when and where -- but playmakers make plays, and there is always a place for those athletes on a football field.

* Minnesota Twins Jacque Jones and LaTroy Hawkins attended the Vikings' developmental camp practice on Wednesday. The diminutive Jones was wearing a Daunte Culpepper jersey and Hawkins was wearing a Randy Moss jersey.
* Culpepper calls Bryant McKinnie eclipse because of the left tackle's massive size, but Wednesday McKinnie was blocking even more sun. The 6-foot-8, 343-pounder took the braids out of his hair and let it fly free, Afro style.
* A number of players have excused absences this week, including linebackers Greg Biekert and Henri Crockett. That means second-round draft choices E.J. Henderson (2003) and Raonall Smith (2002) are practicing as part of the first-team base defense at middle and weakside linebacker, respectively.
* All but one of the NFL Europe players -- QB Shaun Hill, punter Nick Murphy, guard Kenny Sandlin -- are back practicing with the "big-league" team. Kicker Todd France still has to play in the World Bowl this weekend.
* First-round draft pick Kevin Williams will have his first public autograph signing Saturday at Northern Sports in Forest Lake, Minn. Call 1-888-982-1654 for more details.
* Today is the last developmental camp practice for the Vikings. Some of the coaches and players will be heading out of town until they gear up for training camp in mid-July. Players report to Minnesota State, Mankato on July 25.
* Just because it is the last day of camp doesn't mean our coverage ends until July 25. VU will continue with stories from interviews and insights gained at camp and in the near future, plus publish college scouting reports of the Vikings' undrafted rookie free agents from TFY Draft Preview's Tony Pauline and follow the free-agent trail with Lane Adkins.

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