Minicamps a reminder of changing fortunes

Most of the NFL teams are holding minicamps this week. The last time teams gathered for minicamps was two years ago, when the landscape of the league was much different.

Starting today, 22 of the 32 NFL teams will start full-squad mincamps. While the Vikings won't start theirs until next Tuesday, it is the only chance between now and training camp that NFL teams can see exactly what they have on the field in a structured, full-pad setting. It goes to prove that NFL teams are like snowflakes – they're all doing the same thing with the same purpose, but no two are the same.

When the Vikings conducted their full-squad mandatory minicamp two years ago, they were a veteran team looking to squeeze one more year out of a group that had been together for a long time in NFL terms. Other teams, like the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, entered their minicamp periods as young teams looking to gel and grow together.

That process was denied last year, as the NFL lockout had fans and media alike in full Chicken Little mode – fearing that the entire 2011 season or a portion of it could be eliminated. In the case of the Vikings, a lot has changed since the last time the team conducted a full-squad minicamp at Winter Park – part of the life cycle of every NFL franchise.

In 2010, there was competition for roster spots (there always is), but, for the most part, it didn't take a genius to figure out that about 50 players were competing for 10-12 roster spots – a process that would take its first significant step at minicamp. The rest of the roster, barring injuries, was all but set in mid-June, much less late August.

Two years later, it can be argued that about 60 players are competing for 20-25 roster spots and only about 30 positions are locked down at this point, making the Vikings' minicamp period more competitive with much more at stake.

The big difference for the Vikings in terms of roster composition is just the opposite of what it was the last time they held a minicamp, just as Green Bay and Detroit are on the other side of the fence. Both those teams have roster spots open, but, like the Vikings in 2010, there are a lot of players with their names emblazoned in tape on the front of their helmets battling for a limited number of roster spots.

What makes the NFL different from the other major professional sports is the ability to clean house and make significant roster changes from year to year. In the NBA, NHL and MLB, if you're bad one year, the odds are that you're going to be bad the next year. Rosters get shaken up. Free agency makes an impact, but the core of the roster doesn't change dramatically from one year to the next. The rise and fall of a franchise comes in incremental steps – teams rarely go from 20 games under .500 to 20 games over in a single season. In the NFL, the line between being a 10-win team and a 10-loss team is blurrier.

While nobody is expecting the Vikings to transform from a 3-13 team to a 12-4 team in one year (even in the NFL that almost never happens), the transition from the league outhouse to penthouse can happen much quicker. It took Detroit only three years to go from the league's first 0-16 team to the playoffs. It took the Indianapolis Colts even less time to transform from division champions to having the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

It's that ability to rise and fall in a hurry that has helped propel the NFL to its status as the most popular sport among fans and gives everyone hope in mid-June that their team will still be playing in mid-January.

For most of the league, the start of the 2012 padded practices begins today. Hope springs from all 32 franchises that this could be "their year" – whether it's a veteran team trying to squeeze one more year out of an aging roster or a young team with more questions than answers hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. The last time the Vikings had a minicamp, they were one of the former. This time around, they are one of the latter.

NOTE

  • Linebacker Brian Banks is scheduled to visit the Vikings at the end of this week, according to the L.A. Times. Banks is the former high school star who was recently exonerated of rape and kidnapping charges stemming from the claims of a girl in his high school in 2002. The woman recently admitted she made the story up, but only after Banks had served five years in prison.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.



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