While many of the starting spots appear set for the Minnesota Vikings, there were plenty of positions with a starting spot up for grabs.
The offensive line saw tremendous rotation throughout the three weeks of organized team activities and minicamp. Some of that was due to injury and not wanting to push players back too soon following surgery and risk a setback. But there is an advantage to a probable starter missing practice at this time of year: backups are put in a position for coaches to evaluate with the starting units.
“I tried to be very careful this spring because, for the most part, our injuries have been nothing major and I wanted to get to camp healthy. That’s a big thing,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “And then I want us to, when we come back, to kind of be where we left. I understand some of the technical things, but we progressed so much quicker this year than last year at this time because of knowing the system, knowing the terminology, knowing all of the different things. I want us to continue where we are right now. I would like that.”
With Phil Loadholt taking part in only individual drills, Mike Harris got the starting reps at right tackle, just as he did last season after Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle.
With Brandon Fusco in a similar situation but slightly ahead of Loadholt’s schedule, Fusco went through individual drills and took limited full-team reps. When he wasn’t at left guard, second-year lineman David Yankey was there.
Fusco’s move to left guard opened an opportunity at right guard, where rookies T.J. Clemmings (in OTAs) and Tyrus Thompson (in OTAs and minicamp) are in a battle for the opening.
“We are trying to build a smart, tough, aggressive football team that knows how to play in crucial situations and that was part of our offseason emphasis,” Zimmer said.
Defensively, Robert Blanton took the vast majority of the first-team reps, but coaches say that spot is still undecided opposite Harrison Smith.
The linebackers also have some questions to answer before the start of the season. Anthony Barr, when healthy, which should be by the start of training camp, is the strongside starter, and Chad Greenway is on the weak side. However, Barr was limited in full-team work at minicamp, creating opportunities for Gerald Hodges to get better.
Second-round pick Eric Kendricks is also working to find a role at middle linebacker, but Audie Cole was taking the bulk of the first-team reps in the base defense. But when it came to nickel linebackers, a vast rotation was in play. At times, it was Greenway and Hodges, then Kendricks and Greenway, and even Hodges and Kendricks. In other words, the top linebackers are clear, but who plays when is still very much an open competition heading into training camp.
“I think everybody’s a lot more comfortable in their roles right now. We seem to be playing faster and not thinking quite as much,” Zimmer said. “Defensively, we actually had a couple of things in this week that were difficult and they handled it very well. That was good to see.”