After a month of organized team activities that showed off the new speed of the Minnesota Vikings' younger legs, we will finally be able to see what the more physical position players can do with the arrival of the team's mandatory minicamp this week.
To date, the media has been treated to seeing the speed – both long-field form and in short areas – of new receiver Jerome Simpson. We've also seen what appears to be a new (haircut and jersey number, at least) and improved Chris Cook, reminding what competent cornerback play should like at the NFL level after a series of inexperienced cornerbacks were called into duty because of injury last season.
With the Minnesota makeover in full effect, this week's three-day minicamp should offer a glimpse of what the team will really look like. Here are a few of the positions and players that need answers, whether that comes this week or waits for a gradual reveal in training camp.
Matt Kalil – While fans have been clamoring for some analysis on the Vikings' first-round draft pick, it's been nearly impossible to decipher anything of real substance without the pads on and little contact permitted in the OTAs. Here's what we do know: Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, who is pretty matter-of-fact in his assessments, is fairly sure that Kalil will be "really good." The indicators are there, too – Kalil has the size and quickness to handle speed rushers in the NFL, as witnessed by his willingness and burst getting to the second level to wall off a backside linebacker. What we don't yet know is whether he can handle the NFL's best pass rusher, Jared Allen, who has been missing from OTAs but is expected at minicamp, and how Kalil will perform when asked to run block with pads.
RIGHT GUARD – Second-year player Brandon Fusco has been getting the vast majority of the first-team snaps as the first option to replace Anthony Herrera. Fusco changed his diet and the results have been impressive. Gone is the upper-body flab, replaced by barrel-chested muscle. But free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz shouldn't be dismissed in the battle at right guard. He has more NFL experience than Fusco and knows Davidson and his schemes from their days together at Carolina.
Letroy Guion – Pat Williams is long gone. So, too, is the failed experiment for his replacement, Remi Ayodele. That leaves the Vikings with their next attempt to replace Williams – former fifth-round defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Despite not having the label of starter last year, Guion actually played far more than Ayodele and was more effective. Their styles, however, are different. Ayodele was more an anchoring defensive tackle while Guion is a quick, penetrating, disruptive force in the middle. There is little question the Vikings expect Guion to be their starter – they are paying him almost identically what they did Ayodele – but the big unknown is how his insertion will affect the defense's ability to stop the run.
Jasper Brinkley – In some ways, the switch from E.J. Henderson to Brinkley raises some of the same questions as the Guion move. Smack dab in the middle of the defense, Brinkley might actually be an upgrade over Henderson, who struggled through injuries the last few years, but instincts and pass coverage will be the big questions. Brinkley played well in his six-game stint as Henderson's replacement at the end of the 2009 season, but he will have to prove he can hold up a full season as a starter after suffering a season-ending hip injury during the 2011 preseason and sitting out last week's OTA practices. Brinkley may get in a few pops of the pads in minicamp, but his coverage ability and diagnostic skills will be watched most closely.
SAFETY SPOTS – First-round pick Harrison Smith is moving into the starting lineup. It started last week in OTAs, a move that was a foregone conclusion at some point this offseason. But who will join him? His fellow Notre Dame alumnus, Robert Blanton, is still buried on the depth chart while Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond are still part of the starting plot. Now that contact will be allowed, watching all of those players track the ball and knock it loose at minicamp will be one of the foreshadowing events.
Yes, it's early in the process, but minicamp is the top opportunity to get a full-team, full-contact view before training camp of those who are being asked to step up their contributions. Finally, it's about to get as real as it can during the offseason.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.