Team Coming Into Focus

The Vikings showed the good and the bad during their three-day minicamp. But the practices gave some insight into the possibilities for the future, especially on defense, where coordinator Willie Shaw is working with a host of new players.

A three-day minicamp in April isn't always the best barometer of where a team will be by training camp in late July, but it might tell a little bit about who could make the team, who could start and who could star.

With that, here are some final notes and observations gleaned from the camp:

* Mike Tice isn't the only coach who can show a load of intensity. Willie Shaw wasn't afraid to get into his players' faces. He said on draft weekend that he doesn't know which player will be a leader on defense, but he will find one and make one.

While that leader will presumably come from one of the veterans — possibly middle linebacker Henri Crockett — it wasn't all in-your-face coaching from Shaw. He also took time to be a patient teacher with his younger defensive backs. One of the things he worked on was showing them some tendencies quarterbacks have that could clue the defensive backs into where the ball is going. Even during stretching sessions, Shaw was working technique with the defensive backs. There is a lot to be learned by the younger players in the secondary, but there is also better talent there than in years past.

* The linebackers have more size this year, but they also will need more developmental camp time to really come together as a unit and function smoothly within the whole defense. Patrick Chukwurah may be back at his more natural position of strongside linebacker, but the coaches last year were concerned with his discipline. He'll be given every opportunity to show he has matured since last August. The job is his to lose.

* The Vikings are known to have spent more money on signing bonuses for rookie free agents this year. One player who kind of falls into that "rookie" class is punt returner/running back David Allen. Allen was signed as a rookie free agent by San Francisco last year but released before the season began. He showed his quickness on more than one carry during the minicamp and could be a sleeper.

* Speaking of sleepers, the Vikings have a decent amount of untapped potential to use as backup running backs. Tice was impressed with James Wofford in last year's camp, as were many fans, but Wofford was released. He may have his chance this year. Also opening the eyes of some coaches and scouts was another Allen — Jeremy Allen of Iowa. He is a bigger running back, but has decent speed and can be used effectively in one-back sets, which the Vikings plan to use more this year.

* Another sleeper being talked about at camp was rookie free-agent wide receiver Kelly Campbell, who is probably more of a practice squad candidate.

* As for the rookie wide receivers, they spent a decent amount of time being instructed on how to run precision routes and not come out of their breaks too soon.

* The thought on the veteran wide receivers is that D'Wayne Bates is more the route runner and Cedric James could be the burner down the sideline. James had an impressive camp.

* Everett Lindsay and Corbin Lacina were splitting time at left guard, leaving the door open for who would actually start. However, don't be too surprised if fourth-round pick Ed Ta'amu gets a decent amount of playing time backing up both guard spots later in the season, once he is more comfortable with the blocking schemes.

* Tice said he thought Jim Kleinsasser looked more comfortable being on the line of scrimmage as a tight end and is 15 to 20 pounds heavier than last year. He also was showing some very good hands in making a number of difficult catches.

* The consensus among those VU talked to was that special teams coach Jay Hayes got a raw deal in Pittsburgh, where, we were told, the Steelers didn't dedicate nearly enough time to practicing special teams.

* Sticking with the special teams theme, those returning punts were Wisconsin rookie Nick Davis, Wofford and Jeremy Allen. Davis looked especially natural in that role.

* It wasn't evident all the time, probably because they were working with so many new faces, but at times the Vikings offense really showed glimpes of using all the motion they have been talking about. It has the potential to really confuse defenses in their coverage.


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