Baca in the saddle

Sixth-round rookies never have much job security, but guard Jeff Baca is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Pro Bowlers John Sullivan and Blair Walsh as sixth-rounders that have made the Vikings a Super Bowl contender.

Sixth-round draft picks are never a guarantee to make an NFL roster. In fact, more than half don't end up on a 53-man roster. They're prospects than an organization sees as having upside potential and the odds of them making a final roster are a coin flip at best.

The Vikings have been a notable exception to that rule. Since general manager Rick Spielman joined the front office in 2008, every sixth-round draft pick selected by the Vikings has made the team, including Pro Bowlers John Sullivan and Blair Walsh, along with Joe Webb, Brandon Fusco, Mistral Raymond and DeMarcus Love.

The latest candidate to continue that trend is guard Jeff Baca. Despite the recent success the Vikings organization has enjoyed in the late rounds of the draft, Baca understands that the odds may be stacked against him given that the Vikings are returning all five starters on the O-line and there is a lot of competition for the backup spots. He is enjoying his time in Mankato because he has his nose to the grindstone and is fighting for his football life – and he wouldn't have it any other way.

"My focus right now is just on coming out, playing my game and making an impression on the coaching staff," Baca said. "I'm trying to learn the offense as fast as possible and play the game like I know it should be played. I pride myself on my level of preparation and I want the coaches to see that I can compete and that I belong at this level."

One of the selling points that Baca has in his favor was the turmoil in the coaching ranks at UCLA during his time there. He gained system versatility by force, not choice. But, in the end, he feels that has made him a much more well-rounded player who can adapt and change quickly as needed.

"We ran a pro style for two years, so that is pretty familiar to me because a lot of the concepts are similar," Baca said. "I've been in three different systems. Through all of those you learn and adapt and pick up on things. Having those different experiences and having to learn multiple systems wasn't always easy at the time, but I think it's made me a better player overall and has made learning the Vikings system a little easier because I've had to learn a new offensive scheme before. (Offensive line) Coach (Jeff) Davidson is a great coach and teacher and he doesn't let you leave until you get what he's teaching you. That has helped me a lot in my transition."

One of his biggest concerns coming to Minnesota surrounded the unknowns of how he would be perceived by the vested veterans on the offensive line and how he would be treated. When players are competing for a finite number of positions, the battles can be fierce and when it comes down to the inevitable "who stays and who goes" cutdown scenario, Baca wasn't sure if he would receive a warm welcome or a cold shoulder.

He was pleasantly surprised by the support and encouragement he has received from his veteran teammates – from the starters to those he is in direct competition with for a roster spot.

"The veterans have been very helpful for me," Baca said. "That has been awesome, because that isn't a guarantee when you come to a team. I didn't know what the situation would be like, but from the day I got here back at (organized team activities), the veteran guys have been extremely helpful and I appreciate that a lot."

The Vikings have a habit of falling in love with their late-round picks and the sixth round has been a fortunate landing spot for previous picks made in that round. Baca hopes that he will continue that trend, and, in the process, take another item off of his personal bucket list.

"The best part of this for me is just being out here and having a chance to compete to make a National Football League team," Baca said. "I had two dreams in college. One was to get drafted. I got that one checked off my list. The second was to have a shot to compete and become an NFL player. Hopefully, I'll be able to check that one off too. I'm giving it my best shot and I'm hoping that everything will work out and I'll win a spot on the roster."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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