Safety Dance

With little to no experience at quarterback and wide receiver, those are the positions being focused on by fans and media alike. But, with four veterans and one promising youngster at safety, how that position battle breaks down will be one of the prime areas of viewing for fans during the preseason.

Depth at a position is always critical, but when you have competitors who have spent their entire football lives as starters, they're not used to competition and really not used to losing competitions.

That is what the Vikings face at safety this season, with four NFL starting veterans competing for two starting spots and at least one of the losers likely not being on the opening-day roster.

Darren Sharper has been a solid safety since coming over from the Packers while Dwight Smith stepped in admirably at the 11th hour after the Vikings lost Tank Williams for the season with a knee injury. Williams is back and wants his job along with it.

Then there's Mike Doss. A favorite of Leslie Frazier when both were with the Colts, Doss, like Williams, is trying to return from a knee injury that prevented him from getting a long-term contract.

Then you throw Greg Blue into the mix. Blue was a pleasant surprise for the Vikings in his rookie season and earned his niche as linebacker-like hitter and an asset in short-yardage and goal-line defense.

Will the Vikings have the roster flexibility (don't be jealous that we can make up phrases using "flexibility") to keep all five? It's possible. But it might not be probable. All four of the Vikings' veterans have been used to being starters for most of their careers and don't like the idea of taking a back seat to anyone. While there would be no guarantee of any of those who lose the position battles accepting their part-time role, it is much easier to talk a young player into a role player and special teamer than someone with four, five or six years of experience – the service time for Doss, Williams and Smith, respectively.

For those who don't win the starting jobs, the Vikings may have to do a selling job to them to keep them focused and ready to step in if an injury knocks someone out of the lineup. Unlike other key positions, like quarterback and wide receiver, where experience is thin and competition isn't at its height, the battles at safety are going to be one of the more interesting position battles heading into this season.

Just because Mike Tomlin might have favored one guy or another doesn't mean Frazier will automatically sign off with the same guys. Smith, for example, worked with Tomlin in Tampa Bay and had an "in" with him. Doss, it would seem, has a similar inside track with Frazier.

Ideally, the Vikings will find a way to keep five safeties on the roster. But with the lack of depth at many other positions, they may not have the luxury. It would appear at first blush that, barring injury, Sharper and Blue are the only two safeties almost guaranteed a roster spot – Sharper because he's that good and Blue because he's the only safety under contract after this year.

While the media will likely center on position battles for QB, wide receiver and depth at positions like tight end, running back and defensive end, the safety battles could be the most interesting, since it's the one area where the Vikings have more than their share of talent.


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