A position-by-position look at how the Vikings stack up heading into training camp:
QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Daunte Culpepper. Backups -- Gus Frerotte, Shaun Hill.
Culpepper is one of the keys to camp. He was turnover-prone early last year, then went into a shell trying to avoid those turnovers, taking away the big plays as well. By the end of the season he started to hit his stride. He could get more help from Frerotte than he did from Todd Bouman. Hill is coming off a season in NFL Europe.
RUNNING BACK: Starter -- Doug Chapman. Backups -- Onterrio Smith, Moe Williams, James Wofford, Larry Ned; FB James Lynch, FB Jeremy Allen.
Michael Bennett's injury will give two players with different stories a great chance. Chapman was beat out by Bennett, then was hurt early last season, ending the year on IR. This is his third year, his last chance to show what he can do. Smith fell to the fourth round because of off-the-field problems, but he'll have a great opportunity here. Williams will play on third down. The Vikings would like to use a true fullback more this year, but both Lynch and Allen will have to step it up to earn playing time.
TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter -- Jim Kleinsasser. Backups -- Hunter Goodwin, Byron Chamberlain (suspended), Steve Farmer.
Kleinsasser is one of the best edge-blocking TEs in the game. He'll have to pick it up as a receiving threat to make up for Chamberlain being gone. Goodwin is a strong blocker as well. Farmer has a good chance to step up and get reps in the slot on third down with his speed.
WIDE RECEIVER: Starters -- Randy Moss, D'Wayne Bates. Backups -- Kelly Campbell, Derrick Alexander, Nate Burleson, Cedric James, Kenny Clark.
There will be a lot of competition here. The Vikings would love to have a player step up and challenge Bates for the starting spot opposite Moss. Campbell has the big-play ability but is fragile and thus can't play every down. Alexander will get one more chance to show that A) He can play and, B) He's willing to work hard. Burleson is a polished receiver coming out of college who can play all the receiver spots.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Chris Liwienski, C Matt Birk, RG Dave Dixon, RT Mike Rosenthal. Backups: G/T Everett Lindsay, T/G Lewis Kelly, C/G Cory Withrow.
An improved unit. McKinnie finished strong after ending his holdout and becomes the rock of the line. Liwienski, a natural guard, moves to left guard from right tackle due to the signing of Rosenthal. Look for the Vikings to run more to the left than they have in recent years. McKinnie, Liwienski and Birk are all powerful blockers, while Dixon is aging and Rosenthal is more of a finesse-style pass blocker. Lindsay can back up at any position.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Kenny Mixon, DT Fred Robbins, DT Chris Hovan, RE Lance Johnstone. Backups -- DT Kevin Williams, DE Lorenzo Bromell, DE/DT Billy Lyon.
Williams has shown every bit of the quickness that caused his draft stock to rise quickly in April. Indeed, he has looked so good the Vikings are expecting to let him play some end as well to keep him on the field more often. At a minimum, the third-down pass rush will improve. A quick start by Williams would open things up for Hovan, who saw more double teams than any other Vikings lineman last year. Mixon should also improve, if Williams can eat up blockers. Lyon figures to get a lot of reps, especially on base downs. Bromell has to take some steps forward as a pass-rusher.
LINEBACKER: Starters -- SLB Chris Claiborne, MLB Greg Biekert, WLB Henri Crockett. Backups -- SLB Nick Rogers, MLB E.J. Henderson, WLB Raonall Smith.
Claiborne, who is in shape and appears to be very motivated, could wind up being the most important off-season move the Vikings made. He will start on the strong side, then become the nickel and dime 'backer on passing downs. Biekert figures to be even more impressive vs. the run given fewer reps. On the weak side, second-year player Smith figures to give Crockett a big run for his money as a starter. At the very least, Smith, if he stays healthy, will play in the nickel, giving the Vikings two big, very fast 'backers in that formation, something they haven't had in a few seasons.
DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD: Starters -- LCB Denard Walker, RCB Ken Irvin, SS Corey Chavous, FS Willie Offord. Backups -- CB Brian Williams, S Jack Brewer, S Brian Russell, CB Eric Kelly, CB Carey Scott.
Walker struggled a bit during mini-camps learning the defense, but still figures to be the best corner the Vikings have had in years. Irvin has a slight edge over Williams, but the two will battle it out, with the loser becoming the nickel back. The backfield is improved so much that Kelly, who started last year, will have to settle for being the dime back. The biggest question is at free safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Hayden Epstein, P Eddie Johnson. KR John Avery, Onterrio Smith, Nate Burleson, Keenan Howry. Backups -- PK Aaron Elling, Todd France. P Nick Murphy.
Epstein will be pushed hard by Aaron Elling, whom special teams coach Rusty Tillman likes. Johnson was impressive during mini-camps. The jobs of returning punts and kicks are wide open.
Pre-Camp Personnel Overview
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