The magnificent seven

The days are counting down to the Vikings opening training camp -- the prelude to the 2010 season. As they do, there are dozens of questions they have (other than No. 4) as to what direction the team goes as it enters the season as one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites. We take a look at seven that we're going to follow during the dog days in Mankato.

There is a reason players hate training camp. They are put through their paces every day and, in many ways, are toughening up their bodies for the abuse of the season to come. While to an outside observer, the practices don't always look particularly intense, as players will tell you, try it some time. It's not easy, especially when you have hungry young players fighting for their football lives.

While everyone else is pre-occupied with the Brett Favre decision – hopefully ESPN won't waste an hour of prime-time programming to drag out the announcement, there are a lot of questions that will be answered during training camp. These are my top training camp questions that need to be answered down in Mankato, not Mississippi.

Cedric the Entertainer? -- The devastating knee injury to Cedric Griffin was extremely problematic for two reasons. First, it came during the opening kickoff of overtime when the Vikings needed him more on defense than on special teams. Second, and more importantly, the injury came at the end of January and the rehab time for such injuries are usually nine to 12 months. Under a best-case scenario, he will likely be very limited early in training camp and worked in slowly. In a worst case scenario, he starts camp on the P.U.P. list.

New Kids On the Block -- The only way the top Vikings rookies are going to get on the field once the regular season begins is to make a big impression in camp and during their preseason action. Ideally, Chris Cook will be a dime back and special teamer as a rookie, but, with injury questions in the secondary, he will have to be prepared to be a key component piece of the defensive backfield. If opponents smell weakness, they attack like pit bulls on a bichon poodle. It's not pretty. He will have to have his "A" game in order. Toby Gerhart isn't going to be asked to shoulder a lot of the running load…unless he turns heads in training camp. He has much more to gain in Mankato than to lose. DE Everson Griffen was viewed by some draft analysts as a borderline first-round draft pick and fell to the Vikings in the fourth round. He has something to prove. The question is will he?

Win-Field of Dreams -- In 2008 when the Vikings made their first statement of being a team to be contended with by winning the NFC North, Antoine Winfield went to the Pro Bowl and played his way into a contract extension. Last year, a mysterious foot injury that was initially denied eventually cost him six games (and a bye week). While he had missed just eight games in his first five years with the Vikings, he has missed 10 of his last 48. If healthy, Winfield is a dominant defender. If not, the Vikings defense takes a step backward. Training camp will show whether he's back to the old ‘Toine or not.

Sage Advice -- When Sage Rosenfels signed with the Vikings, the plan was that he would get the opportunity to be the starter in 2009 – a position that had eluded him his entire career. As he enters training camp, he is likely the unhappiest of Vikings. Tarvaris Jackson might claim the same, but Rosenfels has yet to "officially" be a Viking. He has never been on the active roster – serving as the No. 3 quarterback in all 16 games last year. Now he is being viewed as trade bait if another QB goes down during the preseason and a team comes calling with their hats in their hands. Last year, he was a pro's pro. He took his demotion and was a team player. Many were the days, the media descended on the Vikings locker room to see Favre and Rosenfels "talking shop" – breaking down defensive coverages and responsibilities. Year Two of Favre-a-palooza likely won't go as smoothly for a couple of reasons – Rosenfels is still looking for a chance to start and he's due to get paid borderline starter money in 2010. That's not a good combination.

Lito Shuffle -- Three of the top four training camp stories involve the Vikings secondary. Let's make that four out of five. The Vikings got, given his experience and history, a bargain when they signed Lito Sheppard in free agency. With all the questions that will be front-burner issues, Sheppard could become the defensive version of Randall Cunningham – a veteran some feel has seen his best days showing he can still step up when the heat is on.

Isn't That Special? -- The Vikings special teams have gone from a running joke to one of the rising groups in the league. The combination of signings like Kenny Onatolu, the return of Heath Farwell and the drafting of Jasper Brinkley and Nathan Triplett have shown the Vikings' commitment to the "third team." The first free agent signing the team made was kicker Rhys Lloyd. His acumen for booming kickoffs has made him one of the more prized kickoff specialists. Unfortunately, Ryan Longwell uses kickoffs to gauge his field goal limitations. If he makes the roster, Lloyd could cause a lot of opponent drives to start from the 20-yard line by force, not choice. But, when push comes to shove and the roster is lopped from 54 to 53, one of those two names is likely to be Lloyd. Will the Vikings make the decision to keep four specialists? They haven't yet in the Childress Era.

Harried with the Hendersons -- This will be a watershed for brothers E.J. Henderson and Erin Henderson. E.J., when healthy, has been a dominant force in the middle of the Vikings defense. But the operative words in that phrase have been "when healthy." He has missed significant portions – including the playoffs – of each of the last two seasons due to injury. His horrifying leg injury at Arizona last year has many questioning whether he can return at full strength and, if he does, if he can be the same player he was before the foot injury that ended his 2008 season and the snapped leg that brought a halt to 2009. Meanwhile, Erin was active for just two games in 2009 and is in jeopardy of being a roster cut if he doesn't reassert the impression he made in training camp in 2009. The scenarios for the Henderson family range from both of them playing Sept. 9 at New Orleans or neither of them being on the active roster. This will be a family story to watch.

There are going to be a lot of stories pouring out of training camp about the players fighting to make a roster spot. But the big stories (other than the Neverending Story) are going to be waged by guys who could make or break the Super Bowl aspirations of the 2010 Vikings.

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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