The Vikings are in an interesting phase. They were a play or two (or non-penalty) away from going to the Super Bowl and have their starting cast on offense and defense intact.
They also have eight draft picks and 16 undrafted rookies that they have added to the roster in addition to a few free-agent veterans. That's a lot of incoming talent pushing some backups for a salary. Here are 11 players that will need a strong summer of workouts, training camp and preseason to maintain a job.
Sage Rosenfels – The Vikings thought enough of Rosenfels to trade a fourth-round draft pick for him last year. He came to the Vikings fighting for the starting job with Tarvaris Jackson and ended up spending the entire season as a game-day inactive. His salary is prohibitive for a No. 3 quarterback with a $3 million base. But there are more situations things that, in the end, could keep Rosenfels in purple. First is the uncertainty surrounding Brett Favre's future with the team – will he return and, if so, for how many more years? Second is the fact that Tarvaris Jackson is only on a one-year tender and his free-agency status for next season is up in the air with no collective bargaining agreement in place to determine it.
Naufahu Tahi – Tahi's status always seems to be in question, but the one-year contract tenders continue to get signed. This year, however, the Vikings drafted a linebacker to convert to fullback in Ryan D'Imperio, and with the second-round drafting of Toby Gerhart it will be interesting to see how often the team even uses a true fullback. Working in Tahi's favor is that his salary isn't prohibitive after receiving the lowest tender and the Vikings did use him on nearly 28 percent of the offensive plays last year.
Garrett Mills – The tight end spent most of last year on the practice squad and appears to be in a year of reckoning with the Vikings offense. Injuries derailed his first two seasons with the team and he doesn't have the size to be a strong blocker. His fate likely will rest on the early evaluations of seventh-round draft choice Mickey Shuler.
Greg Lewis – Lewis had quite a beginning in Minnesota, catching a winning 32-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left against San Francisco, his first catch with the Vikings. He was active for 13 games but wasn't a big contributor, and now the Vikings added a bigger athlete at the position with sixth-round pick Joe Webb in addition to a couple of speedy receivers after the draft. Will there be enough room for both Webb and Lewis? Not on the game-day roster for sure and maybe not on the 53-man roster.
Darius Reynaud – Reynaud didn't have a catch all season and is now making the difficult transition to running back, a position he played in high school. He likely won't see much time there either, especially this year, so his roster spot hinges on his ability to keep the job as the team's main punt returner. He ranked fourth in the NFC with a 10.3-yard average last year, so that has to be his roster calling card.
Michael Montgomery – Montgomery is entering his first year with the Vikings, but nothing is assured when it comes to him making the roster. He is making a welcomed return to the 4-3 defense after the Packers went to a 3-4 last year and he got lost in the shuffle, but the Vikings are loaded at defensive end. Not only do they have starters Jared Allen and Ray Edwards, but Brian Robison is a reliable backup looking for a starting opportunity and the team drafted Everson Griffen. Since Montgomery has the ability to move inside on passing down, something Jayme Mitchell doesn't, so Montgomery could be depth insurance if the four-game suspensions to Pat Williams and Kevin Williams are served this year. If Montgomery survives the final roster cutdown, it probably would spell the end of the road for Jayme Mitchell.
Erin Henderson – With two linebackers on this list, there are only so many roster spots. Last year, the Vikings kept six linebackers on the active roster in December – E.J. Henderson (and then J Leman after Henderson's season-ending injury), Chad Greenway, Ben Leber, Jasper Brinkley, Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu. Erin Henderson was suspended for violating the policy on performance enhancing substances. He will have to earn the coaches' trust once again at a position crowded with prospects looking to earn their keep.
Kenny Onatolu – The former CFL linebacker came to the Vikings touted as a special-teams ace and didn't disappoint, tying for the team lead with 24 tackles. That will have to be his niche once again while he continues to get used to an NFL defense. He could be in a competition with fifth-round draft choice Nate Triplett for one of the final spots on the roster.
Lito Sheppard – Many fans assume that Sheppard will be placed in the starting lineup on opening day because of Cedric Griffin's injury, but there is plenty of competition for that spot. Benny Sapp has the experience in the system and Chris Cook was the Vikings' first draft choice this year. Sheppard has the name recognition among fans because of a strong three-year run in Philadelphia from 2004-2006. However, Sheppard was phased out there and eventually with the New York Jets last year. His arrival in Minnesota might mean early contributions, but he will have to earn his playing time throughout the season. This isn't the talent-poor cornerback corps of five years ago.
Husain Abdullah – Abdullah became a valued special teams player, ranking fifth with 17 tackles, but the safety position is slowly getting better depth. Last year, the Vikings kept five safeties, but Abdullah and Frampton were mainly there for special teams. Their fates could be tied to each other and the abilities of the backups at linebacker to play special teams.
Eric Frampton – Frampton played in all 16 games last year and was fourth with 18 tackles on special teams. He admits that is his calling card, but fans should keep a watch on rookie free agent Terrell Skinner. If he can wedge his way onto the 53-man roster, Frampton or Abdullah could be looking for work.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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