Head coach Brad Childress likes healthy competition at virtually every position, but there are a few key spots where it will be a little healthier than others in training camp this summer.
There is a bit of a pecking order already, but who emerges as the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 receivers remains to be seen. Going in it appears that Troy Williamson is getting first crack at the No. 1 spot, Bobby Wade the No. 2 spot and rookie Sidney Rice will be given every opportunity possible to secure the third spot. But none of those are carved in stone and there’s plenty of competition behind them.
Childress has compared the situation at wide receiver this year with the situation at linebacker a year ago. Back then, the linebacking corps was one big question mark, particularly after top pick Chad Greenway went down. In the end, it became a strength of the defense.
Can lightning strike twice? Most don’t think so. But it won’t be because of a lack of prospects.
Wade seems like the closest thing to a sure thing at this point. He’s a nice fit as a slot receiver who fits the West Coast Offense nicely due to his maneuverability and run-after-the-catch ability. In four NFL seasons, he’s caught 101 passes for 1,199 yards (11.9 avg.) and 2 touchdowns.
It’s no secret to anyone how disappointing Williamson’s sophomore season was. He still caught 37 passes for 455 yards (12.3 avg.), but no TDs, and it seemed like he dropped nearly that many. Confidence is the key for Williamson, though, not his hands. He can pluck the ball nicely and the Vikings are optimistic that the work he’s done with the vision experts at Nike will make a significant difference.
“If an athlete is motivated and you challenge him with visual drills clearly relevant to his sport, his athletic performance will improve,” Dr. Alan Reichow has said. “I have yet to see an exception. Your eyes are controlled by muscles. You can train these muscles just like you train your other muscles. Improve your ability to see a moving ball or a teammate, and you’ll react faster.”
Judging by how hard Williamson has worked during the offseason, it would appear that he is indeed motivated, so if Reichow is correct, a breakthrough season is in store for the speedster.
The Vikings would like Rice to crack the top three, because he would seem to offer the most upside and playmaking ability, with good red zone skills.
In the somewhat-experienced category battling for depth is Billy McMullen, Cortez Hankton, Martin Nance and Jason Carter. Then in the high-upside department they have Aundrae Allison, Chandler Williams and Todd Lowber.
There is no shortage of pure talent here at all, and Childress is banking on veteran receivers coach George Stewart having the same kind of affect on his unit that veteran linebackers coach Fred Pagac had on the linebackers last season.
Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson will compete for the starting position, with veteran Mike Rosenthal now out of the picture. Both are former second-round picks. Both have started some games there, but neither has shown the consistency needed to secure the position.
Johnson might have better upside and pure talent, but injuries and inconsistency have plagued him to this point. The former regime seemed to like him a little better than the current staff, but if he outperforms Cook he will win the job.
Cook appears to be the frontrunner at the position going into camp, however. He’s light on experience but high on intangibles. The current coaching staff has obviously seen something they really like in him from the beginning.
Scott has been the model of consistency the past two seasons, filling in for Udeze when he was hurt (in 2005) and Erasmus James when he was hurt last year. Scott really stacks things up at the point of attack against the run. He isn’t a pure speed edge rusher but does bring some power-rush and has certainly been more productive than his the aforementioned more talented pass rushers to this point.
It’s hard to figure how an absolute pass-rush terror in college like Udeze was can start every game and record zero sacks. He was close many times, but needs to close the deal more frequently to keep the job. The Vikings are hoping him settling in at left end, a position considered more natural for him, will be part of the solution.
Ray Edwards and rookie Brian Robison will battle it out until Erasmus James proves he is ready to return from a knee injury he suffered early last season. The coaches will be patient with James, so the two youngsters will get lots of reps early on in training camp to prove their worth.
Edwards could be a real sleeper this season if he can refine his technique and sustain his intensity on every down. He showed flashes as a pure pass rusher as a rookie and could really emerge if he’s focused and continues to improve.
Robison is a little light in the back end but is very fast, athletic and tenacious. He will not be outworked or out-hustled and will be hard to keep off the field.
The Vikings are hopeful that, at some point, James will return with a fury and begin to provide the Chris Doleman-type weakside pass-rush pressure they expected when they drafted him in Round One two years ago.
The starters appear set with Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, but the No. 3 cornerback spot, an important role for a person who sees a lot of playing time, will be hotly contested. Rookie Marcus McCauley will be given every chance to step in as a rookie, but Dovonte Edwards returns from a season-ending arm injury last season and has more pro experience. McCauley has first-round talent, nice size and can really run, but he slumped as a senior and needs to have his confidence restored. Another potential darkhorse in the mix is second-year pro Charles Gordon.
Veterans Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith are the safeties, but two former NFL starters for other teams – Mike Doss and Tank Williams – are also in the mix, giving the team exceptional depth in the deep secondary. Second-year pro Greg Blue also showed promise as a rookie in a couple starts.
Assuming Adrian Peterson signs eventually, the offensive backfield is luxuriously deep, too. Is there room for Mewelde Moore, Artose Pinner and Ciatrick Fason behind Peterson and Chester Taylor? Or might one of them become trade bait and open up the chances for youngsters Wendell Mathis (2006 on practice squad) and Arkee Whitlock?
What about the backup spots on the offensive line? The Vikings have signed a slew of solid free-agent types. How good will they look as the competition level continues to rise?
The remaining spots will likely ride on ability to contribute on special teams, so from spots No. 1 to No. 53 on the roster, competition will be fierce this summer in Mankato.