The Vikings' open practice session last week provided a first look at some new players and the progress of last year's draft picks. Here are seven young or new players that intrigued us and have a chance to carve out a contributing role in 2012.
The Vikings' first week of organized team activities proved to be more of a "Who's that?" than a "Who's who" list of proven talent.
With predictions of a last-place finish in the NFC North and Las Vegas setting the over-under at six wins for 2012, players have a lot of proving to do. In fact, with 88 currently on the roster and so many of them either in their rookie contract or with the Vikings for the first time, along with a new defensive coordinator, there is plenty of acclimation going on at Winter Park these days.
Some of that familiarization happened with reporters last week, as they got their first look at dozens of players practicing with the full team. Here are seven of the players that intrigue me:
Jordan Todman – The former Connecticut star running back was claimed off the San Diego Chargers practice squad in December after Adrian Peterson's season ended with his torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. In other words, Todman had only one game with the Vikings, but now he has a full offseason of OTAs and minicamps to show coaches and general manager Rick Spielman that he can be a contributor early if Peterson isn't ready. So far, both offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and Spielman have agreed with the very early assessment that Todman is a worthy candidate for the Vikings' No. 3 back. He already looks like a better option than Lorenzo Booker did last year. Despite some impressive "wiggle" (without the pads on), Todman could be more than just a third-down back. If Peterson isn't ready in Week 1, look for Todman to take some carries in support of Toby Gerhart.
Jerome Simpson – The free-agent signee from Cincinnati is expected to provide the Vikings with the combination of a deep threat and big target that they have haven't had in some time. Sidney Rice was the big target and had enough speed to create some separation down the field. Simpson has nearly the same height and more speed, but he doesn't look quite as physical as Rice was in his 2009 heyday. What was surprising with Simpson last week was his short-area quickness, which looked fairly impressive for a tall receiver. Better yet, Vikings brass has been pleasantly surprised with his attitude and could see him as a long-term solution to the Vikings' need for just that type of receiving threat.
Stephen Burton – The Vikings will have plenty of decisions to make at the lower depths of the receiver corps. Simpson, Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and rookies Jarius Wright and Greg Childs should make the roster, potentially leaving only one open spot. Devin Aromashodu, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Walters could all compete for the final spot, but if the Vikings follow their desire to get younger and Burton continues with the short-term momentum he had during a two-week stint on the active roster last year before his season-ending injury, Burton will be their man.
Everson Griffen – With Jared Allen electing to stay away from the voluntary OTA session, Griffen is getting extended action at his right defensive end spot. Former defensive coordinator Fred Pagac liked to use Griffen's intriguing athleticism in somewhat of a "joker" role, lining him up inside and outside on the defensive line and even at linebacker. Will new defensive coordinator Alan Williams follow suit? It's too early to tell, but Griffen should be pushing for an increased workload after playing in 25 percent of the defensive snaps last year. More than likely the majority of his action in 2012 will come as a rotational defensive lineman.
Solomon Elimimian – Two years ago, the Vikings found linebacker Kenny Onatolu in the CFL and he turned into one of their better coverage men on special teams. Elimimian could be much more than that. The winner of the CFL's Hardest Hitter award the last two years could play any one of the three linebacker spots. He isn't likely to take a starting spot in his first season, but with Jasper Brinkley looking to prove himself as a full-time starter at middle linebacker for the first time in his three-year-old career and Erin Henderson on only a one-year contract, Elimimian could be push for a starting spot next year … or maybe even this season if injuries dictate.
Brandon Burton – Frankly, Burton didn't impress much in his rookie season. He played in 10 games, mostly on special teams and registered only three tackles while adding another six on special teams. Despite a depleted secondary in the second half of the season, Burton played in less than 7 percent of the team's defensive snaps. This year, Burton switched jersey numbers, from 36 to 27, and looked like a more confident player during last week's open session. He was playing with the second-team defense and had a touch sack of Joe Webb and generally looked quicker and more instinctual.
Robert Blanton – The former Notre Dame cornerback could be the wildcard of the secondary. Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook are the likely starters at cornerback and first-round pick Harrison Smith is expected to be one of the starting safeties. The other one is up for grabs. The starters at the end of last season, Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, kept their spots with the first-team defense last week, but as Blanton becomes more familiar with the Vikings defense and playing safety, his playmaking ability could earn him the final starting spot on defense. It might be a process that takes until the preseason is finished, but he has a chance to make it an all-Notre Dame safety tandem.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.