Many Questions Answered As Minicamp Kicks Off

The Vikings kick off their first minicamp under new head coach Brad Childress today with some questions left to be answered. But we've already been able to find out the answers to many of the questions surrounding their immediate future and address them in our position-by-position look at the current personnel.

The Vikings under the new Triangle of Authority have accomplished many of their offseason personnel goals in satisfying fashion. They have added all-pro talent, upcoming talent and depth on offense, defense and special teams. They have set themselves up nicely for a draft that could feature a trade package to move up, or they could simply enjoy the benefits of filling many of their needs in free agency, leaving them five picks in the first three rounds and another pick in each of the next three rounds.

Here is a position-by-position look at the team as it heads into veteran minicamp Day 1, the first of three days of organized activity.

OFFENSIVE LINE – The Vikings paid big to upgrade one of their weakest positions last year when they signed All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson to a seven-year, $49 million contract. Teamed with Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who is nearing Pro Bowl status, the left side of the offensive line is in terrific shape at the starting spots. The right side is where questions remain. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Vikings are expected to open minicamp with Anthony Herrera at right guard and Marcus Johnson at right tackle. That was the starting right side for much of the second half of the 2005 season, but each of them will face stiff competition. Johnson will be pushed by Mike Rosenthal, and Herrera will have Adam Goldberg, Jason Whittle and Chris Liwienski all nipping at his heels for the starting spot.

TIGHT END – The Vikings might not have a true West Coast type of tight end in their system, but they should be just fine with Jim Kleinsasser and Jermaine Wiggins as front-liners and Richard Owens, Jeff Dugan and Richard Angulo as depth. The Vikings could look to the draft to find that prototype WCO tight end, one who can spit the middle seams.

RUNNING BACK – Chester Taylor, a free agent addition from the Ravens, has team officials excited about the featured back role. Mewelde Moore and Ciatrick Fason will provide depth, and Adimchinobe Echemandu likely will battle with a draft pick for the final spot. For this minicamp, however, the depth is set. At fullback, Tony Richardson becomes the veteran, versatile starter with Joey Goodspeed providing depth.

WIDE RECEIVER – The team wants to get last year's first-round draft pick, Troy Williamson, more involved in the offense this year, but it remains to be seen if it will be Williamson or Travis Taylor who is used more in two-receiver sets opposite Koren Robinson. In addition to Marcus Robinson, after the loss of Nate Burleson, the Vikings added Jimmy Redmond and Ryan Hoag for depth, but look for them to find a receiver in the middle rounds of the draft.

QUARTERBACK – Brad Johnson is the starter, at least for now. If the Vikings do make a trade for a veteran like Matt Schaub, that could change, but for this minicamp it will be Johnson backed up by Mike McMahon and J.T. O'Sullivan. If there is no trade before the draft, look for the Vikings to select a quarterback in the first or second round.

DEFENSIVE LINE – Pass-rushing specialist DeQuincy Scott was the only defensive lineman added in free agency, as the Vikings will return three recent first-round picks – Pro Bowl tackle Kevin Williams and ends Kenechi Udeze and Erasmus James. Nose tackle Pat Williams returns as a starter, and Spencer Johnson, Darrion Scott and C.J. Mosley all provide solid depth.

LINEBACKER – The addition of Ben Leber in free agency would seem to solidify the strongside spot. E.J. Henderson has the starting job on the weak side for now, but if the Vikings make a play for an outside linebacker in the first round of the draft, Henderson's status could change. He might become a backup or he could move to the middle to compete with Napoleon Harris, Dontarrious Thomas and Rod Davis. The middle linebacker spot, and the rotation of linebackers in general, will be the most interesting scenario to watch unfold in this weekend's activities.

CORNERBACK – Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield have the starting roles locked down, but Smoot has to rebound from a sub-par 2005 campaign if he wants to remain the starter during the regular season. At this point, the other options are slim, but the draft could change that. For minicamp, Dovonte Edwards is expected to be the nickel back and Laroni Gallishaw will provide depth.

SAFETY – Free agent signee Tank Williams will assume the starting role at strong safety and Pro Bowler Darren Sharper gets another season to strut his stuff at free safety. Once Willie Offord recovers from his 2005 knee injury (torn ACL), he will back up Williams, and Dustin Fox, last year's third-round pick who spent the season on injured reserve, will also be trying to secure a rotational role. Offord's and Fox's progress back from injuries and their role in the new defense will be the things to monitor in the defensive backfield, along with nickel and dime roles.

SPECIAL TEAMS – The Vikings signed free agent Ryan Longwell to handle the kicking chores, and punter Chris Kluwe had an outstanding rookie season. However, Kluwe's recovery from a knee injury will be key. The Vikings likely will sign a punter before too long as insurance in case Kluwe's knee changes his effectiveness.

The table is set with new personnel, and this weekend will be important in defining what needs the Vikings might have left as they prepare for the NFL draft on April 29-30.


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