Roster rundown: Projecting the defenders

After one week of training camp in the books, the impressions are being formed. Here is our educated guess on the early leaders for starting jobs and roster spots on defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10) – One of the biggest determinants in who stays and who goes on the defensive line could come down to the team's level of confidence with the appealed suspensions of Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. If an Aug. 18 federal court hearing results in a feeling that the Williams Wall will be safe for 2009, the team may elect to keep only two backup defensive tackles. If there is a fair amount of uncertainty regarding the Williamses, then three defensive tackles may need to be stored on the active roster. Fred Evans and Letroy Guion had been receiving most of the second-team reps, but on Thursday Jimmy Kennedy was working on the nose next to Guion. Those are clearly the top three defensive tackles. At end, Jared Allen, Ray Edwards and Brian Robison are roster locks, and Jayme Mitchell is likely the next end. That's already nine players on the defensive line, and a fine nine to make up the final roster of ends. If they keep one more defensive lineman, the options are ends Martail Burnett and Otis Grigsby and tackles Tremaine Johnson and Antoine Holmes. Of those, we give the current edge to Burnett and Johnson, who are also eligible for the practice squad.

LINEBACKERS (7) – Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber are the starters and Heath Farwell is a roster lock with his special-teams prowess. Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley are likely candidates as well – Henderson for his proven special teams ability and Brinkely for his potential on special teams and his hard-hitting ways on defense. By our breakdown, that leaves one open spot, and we see Herron having the best chance at that because of his experience with backing up E.J. Henderson. Onatolu is an interesting candidate, but that would be mainly as a special-teams contributor. Robert Francois' best hope might be the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (9) – Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are the starting cornerbacks and Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson the starting safeties. Husain Abdullah and Eric Frampton are the backup safeties, with Abdullah likely the most secure with his contributions in special teams. The Vikings likely will keep four safeties and five cornerbacks, and for now we'll give a slight edge to Frampton for the fourth safety position because of his experience, but all three rookie safeties – draft pick Jamarca Sanford and undrafted Colt Anderson and Devon Hall – have a chance to earn that fourth spot. Anderson took some second-team reps on Thursday when Abdullah had cramps. At cornerback, it seems clear that Benny Sapp will make it on experience and Asher Allen will make it on talent and future potential – Sapp and Allen could be the lead candidates in the nickel defense by the time the season starts. That will likely leave Marcus McCauley and Karl Paymah battling for what might be the final spot, and Derrick Roberson could also be a sleeper in the mix. Currently, we'd give the edge to McCauley, as Paymah hasn't received as many chances in the first-team nickel or even the second-team base packages. Marcus Walker looked to have potential and confidence last year, but he was beaten several times deep this week, giving us cause for concern about last year's practice squad player.

SPECIALISTS (3) – Chris Kluwe and Cullen Loeffler are the only punter and long snapper, respectively, in camp. They're safe. And despite Ryan Longwell having concerns about the Taylor Mehlhaff signing, Longwell should be able to hang onto his job. He's too consistent to cut, and on Thursday he was actually getting his kickoffs deeper than the much younger Mehlhaff.

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