9 depth-chart battles to watch for Vikings

Most of the Vikings’ starting spots are set, but not in pen. There is some solid competition at several positions, if not for a starting spot this year then for rotational purposes.

We’re two months away from the start of training camp, but it’s not too early to start sizing up the primary camp battles that will be waged in the coming weeks and months.

There are more than may meet the eye, as the top line of the depth chart could be facing competition at several positions.

Here’s some of the more pressing battles that will likely be waged:

Chad Greenway vs. Gerald HodgesGreenway is back for what is expected to be his final season, but he accepted a pay cut. Hodges played well in his stint when given the opportunity due to injuries last season. Greenway likely isn’t in too much jeopardy of losing his starting job, but he will be pushed for playing time by Hodges and whoever plays better in a particular game will get more playing time.

Who’s the “other” starting guard? – Charlie Johnson had been the starter at left guard for the last three years, but he wasn’t re-signed. Brandon Fusco is being considered for a move from right guard to left guard, but whichever guard spot Fusco doesn’t occupy will be left open for competition. The Vikings didn’t draft a pure guard, so the competition would appear to include David Yankey, veteran Joe Berger and rookie college offensive tackles T.J. Clemmings, Austin Shepherd and Tyrus Thompson. This one could be the most wide open battle of training camp and the preseason.

Charles Johnson vs. Cordarrelle PattersonBoth are outside-the-hash wide receivers that will likely be in direct competition for playing time opposite Mike Wallace. Last year, Norv Turner singled Johnson out as the best wide receiver on the roster, so he clearly has the upper hand at this point, but Patterson is blessed with rare ability that, if harnessed right, could be an explosive player with big-play ability at any time.

Jerick McKinnon vs. Matt AsiataWhether Adrian Peterson kisses and makes up with the Vikings or not, there is going to be some sort of time split between McKinnon and Asiata. When Peterson was first put on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, Asiata got the starting nod, but was replaced shortly thereafter by the more explosive McKinnon. However, McKinnon wasn’t able to hold up, so the competition will likely be fierce for both of them to display their strengths, whether as A.P.’s backup band or in the spotlight themselves.

Brian Robison vs. Danielle HunterThis isn’t an indictment of B-Rob. He’s very likely to keep his starting job, but the Vikings coaches and General Manager Rick Spielman have been gushing about the physical talents that Hunter brings to the table. He’s viewed as a raw project, but how many times have we seen a player get off to a hot start and get more playing time every week? Hunter won’t supplant B-Rob this year, but he may seriously cut into his time if he starts piling up sacks early in the season in third-down pass-rush opportunities.

Eric Kendricks vs. Audie ColeWhen Jasper Brinkley went down last season, Cole got the call and, while he has some physical limitations in coverage, he was consistently flying to the ball and has made an impression on the coaching staff. Depending on how quickly Kendricks can pick up the Mike Zimmer defense, he will get every chance to win the starting job, but it’s Cole’s job for now, so Kendricks will have to put Michael Mauti in the rearview mirror before he sets his sights on Cole and the No. 1 spot in the middle of the defense.

Marcus Sherels vs. the annual competition – Sherels is the Rasputin of the NFL. He’s never been a favorite to win a roster spot as primarily a punt return specialist and backup defensive back. It seems like he’s on the roster bubble every year and typically breaks off a huge punt return in the preseason that solidifies his spot and then has a couple big returns each regular season to keep him around. Stefon Diggs is looking to win a roster spot at wide receiver and his best Chance Early on may be to win a job in the return game.

Robert Blanton vs. the stockpiling competition – Blanton was the starter opposite Harrison Smith last season and didn’t play poorly, but perhaps nobody is going to face more viable competition for his starting spot. At the draft, Spielman made a point to extoll the virtues of Antone Exum. Throw in free-agent signing Taylor Mays (who is vested in the Zimmer defense), special teams ace Andrew Sendejo (who plays safety like his hair is on fire) and the most talked-about undrafted free agent on the team (Anthony Harris). The competition may be the deepest and the most significant of camp because there will be a finite number of safeties that make the 53-man roster.

Cullen Loeffler vs. Kevin McDermottThings are going to be so competitive at camp, that, for the first time in a long time, the most vested veteran of the current Vikings roster (Loeffler) will be facing a challenge. The Vikings didn’t devote a roster spot to sign McDermott after free agency began just to fill a spot. Loeffler’s veteran salary may be his undoing, even though a long snapper’s salary is but a drop in the salary-cap bucket. The Vikings are looking at life after Loeffler and, if McDermott is perfect in his opportunities, he’s a cheaper option the Vikings have clearly given thought to.

These are just a relative sample of the position battles that will be going on during training camp. Keep in mind that these are just for starting playing time. There are going to be twice as many battles for the back half of the roster to make the final 53. This may be one of the more interesting training camps in years with the Vikings. Picking the final 53 will be a difficult proposition because in Year 2 of the band Zimmer-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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