The Vikings enter training camp about as set as any team in the NFL, especially given the growing expectation that Brett Favre will be coming back. All 22 starters and four primary specialists (Ryan Longwell, Cullen Loeffler, Chris Kluwe and Percy Harvin) are back and the battles will be on at several positions. The questions to be answered at training camp, as far as the starters are concerned, are minimal.
Below are 10 training camp battles for roster spots that will define the preseason. Unlike a lot of teams where competition is wide open and undrafted rookies with desire and a dream have every chance to make the final roster, the Vikings are a veteran-laden team poised to make a short-term run to glory and the band is all but set. The open spots are preciously rare. These battles will determine who makes up the back 10 percent of the final roster.
Sage Rosenfels vs. Joe Webb – At first look, this wouldn't seem like a competition. But if Webb continues to improve and make progress in his fight to win a roster spot at quarterback, the Vikings may be openly shopping Rosenfels for a Day Three 2011 draft pick, depending on what the market will bear.
Naufahu Tahi vs. Ryan D'Imperio – Tahi was essentially thrown under the bus following the playoff loss to the Saints, but will D'Imperio be able to make the defense-to-offense switch quickly enough to get the Vikings to cut their only true fullback? This battle screams of Tahi staying and D'Imperio making the practice squad. However, both won't be on the 53-man roster.
Albert Young vs. Ryan Moats – Historically in the Brad Childress era, the Vikings have kept precious few running backs – typically four. With a fullback required to protect Favre, that number drops. Adrian Peterson and rookie Toby Gerhart are guaranteed roster spots barring a preseason injury. Darius Reynaud has the "position flexibility" Childress loves – capable of playing wide receiver, running back and being the primary punt returner – so his spot could be safe. That's four already, so both Young and Moats could find themselves victims of a numbers game.
Jeff Dugan vs. Mickey Shuler – The second-generation tight end was a seventh-round pick that the Vikings thought enough of to draft instead of risking him getting away in the competition as an undrafted free agent. Dugan plays a lot of roles with the team, but, unless Jim Kleinsasser unexpectedly announces his retirement, the battle for the third TE on the roster will come down to these two. Garrett Mills faces an uphill battle.
Greg Lewis vs. the numbers – The Vikings have four roster spots effectively locked down at wide receiver. Sidney Rice, Harvin, Bernard Berrian and all likely have spots on the roster and Reynaud could be switched to be counted among the receivers. Few teams keep just four wide receivers on their 53-man, so Lewis will likely fight off the challenge of training camp hopefuls. But, there are issues concerning roster spots – who can get cut and who can't – and Lewis could end up being a sacrificial lamb who would likely be re-signed as soon as a roster spot opened.
Chris Clark vs. the numbers – The drafting of Chris DeGeare, who is envisioned as a replacement for Artis Hicks as a backup at multiple guard and tackle positions, creates a developmental player that they can't jettison. A fifth-round selection is no guarantee of making a roster, but he was drafted with a purpose in mind. It makes sense to believe that DeGeare, who can play guard and tackle, is more attractive than a guy who would just as likely be behind DeGeare on the left tackle depth chart – as important a depth chart as there is on a roster other than quarterback. Clark would be a "luxury" pick on the 53-man roster at a time where luxury doesn't seem to be in the roster vocabulary.
Michael Montgomery vs. Jayme Mitchell – The Vikings might keep five defensive ends, but four of them are all but givens – Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison and rookie Everson Griffen. There is little to no chance that, given the tight roster spots, the Viking will keep six defensive ends. It's possible, but not at all probable, that the team will keep both of them. This one will get interesting.
Fred Evans vs. Letroy Guion – Three defensive tackle spots are locked up – the Williams Wall and Jimmy Kennedy. While it is possible the Vikings will keep five DTs, it is by no means a guarantee. Evans and Guion are both experienced in the system and may get the loyalty vote of the coaching staff in the end, but one of them will certainly be on the final 53-man roster bubble.
Nate Triplett vs. the numbers – A fifth-round draft pick, Triplett is expected to compete for a special-teams spot. There are two huge obstacles he faces. First is that the Vikings likely aren't going to keep three middle linebackers. E.J. Henderson and Jasper Brinkley are locked into spots, which creates Hurdle No. 1. The second obstacle is that the Vikings already have two roster spots locked into linebackers that are primarily special-teams specialists in Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu. Will they keep three? The answer to that won't be known until early September.
Rhys Lloyd vs. the numbers - His ability to bomb kickoffs so deep that most many returners don't bring them back makes his value to the team enormous. He's not going to get Ryan Longwell cut – the Vikings paid Longwell a significant roster bonus in March. His biggest competition is from a linebacker or an interior lineman or a wide receiver.
A month from now, these competitions will begin in earnest. Two months from now, we'll know who wins and who loses. Until then, let the speculation begin.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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