Vikings offense: Deep battles to watch

Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson will get the headlines, but numerous players will be battling for a roster spot – at quarterback, receiver, fullback and even on special teams.

There is really only one starting spot up for grabs on the offensive side of the ball – right guard. However, there are a lot of second- and sometimes even third-tier position battles to keep an eye on as training camp begins.

Third-string QB
The first one to keep an eye on is who will the Vikings name to be their third-string quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater will be the starter and Shaun Hill will be the backup, but the third string is still up in the air.

The third-string quarterback is usually a young player that teams hope they can develop into a quality backup or a player they can use as a bargaining chip to another team who is need of a quarterback. For that reason Taylor Heinicke, an undrafted rookie from Old Dominion University, seems to be a perfect fit to take on the role as third-string quarterback. The problem is that the team needs to be comfortable with that quarterback stepping up if they have to and Heinicke has been unimpressive so far during offseason workouts.

The player that will be pushing Heinicke for the third-string quarterback position is not a young quarterback but veteran quarterback Mike Kafka. The Vikings found Kafka when he worked out at the NFL veteran combine. He has spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has had experience as a backup. That experience will give him a slight edge over Heinicke going into training camp.

Reserve receiver
Another position battle to keep an eye on is who will be named the team’s No. 5 wide receiver. This player won’t see the field all that often but will on occasion and will also be expected to make an impact on special teams. The two players who are expected to be battling for this position are Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Thielen impressed coaches and fans alike last offseason with his performance and his intensity. Not only did he play well as a receiver during the preseason, but he also made an impact on special teams. That hard work and play carried over into the regular season, as Thielen became a top contributor on special teams and also saw the field as a receiver on multiple occasions. After playing sparingly on offense most of the season, he got 20 snaps in the season finale.

This offseason the Vikings drafted Diggs in the fifth round. At Maryland, he was an explosive player that used a combination of speed and elusiveness in college to create big plays. He has the ability to be a talented slot receiver and return man, but there are a few players in front of him for both those positions so, instead, he will need to prove he has the ability to fill in elsewhere on the football field.

If both of these players perform well in training camp and the preseason, it is possible that they both make the 53-man roster. But the only way that happens is if they prove that they can both play multiple roles on special teams and make an impact in those roles.

The fullback role
The final position battle on the offensive side of the ball to track is fullback. Once Jerome Felton opted out of his contract, the role of “starter” was handed to Zach Line, even if the Vikings don’t use a traditional fullback in Norv Turner’s offense as much as they used to. Line signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2013 after playing as a running back in college at SMU, but his size made more sense for him to become a fullback. Since he played running back in college his ability to run with the ball and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield adds another wrinkle to the offense. The biggest question is how well he can block for Adrian Peterson, who has been known to run over his own blockers when they get in his way.

The player competing with Line for the starting fullback role will be Blake Renaud. He was an undrafted rookie that signed with the Vikings this offseason, but the biggest issue surrounding him is his inexperience as a fullback. In college, he played as a linebacker so it will be interesting to see how he is able to transition into his new position.

Another thing to watch is the development and use of tight ends MyCole Pruitt and Rhett Ellison. Both of these players have the ability to play both tight end and move into the backfield as a fullback. Because of that, there is the possibility that the Vikings don’t need a fullback. If they cut that position out and just rotate one of the tight ends into the backfield, it could open up a roster spot to keep extra players at another position.

Settling on a snapper
Along with offense it will be important to keep an eye on special teams, specifically the battle for the starting long snapper position. Cullen Loeffler has been with the team since 2004, but after a down year in 2014 the team signed free agent Kevin McDermott to push him for the starting role. McDermott is younger than Loeffler and was college teammates with the Vikings punter Jeff Locke.

This will likely be one of the last position battles to come to a conclusion. The coaching staff has already said they are going to wait to see both players play in game situations before they make a decision.

As practices kick off on Sunday, there will be plenty of hype surrounding Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson, but camp will be more for determining the deeper positions on the roster.

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