Sunday Slant: Vikings most likely to …

The starting roster is pretty well set heading into the Vikings' 50th training camp, but the preseason will allow the younger players a chance to make an early impression. Viking Update subscribers asked in several different ways which players could surprise and impress over the next six weeks. We speculate.

Vikings training camp is so close you can almost smell the sweat, or at least the exhaust trail heading down Highway 169 to Mankato.

You know all about the Mississippi mystery man, but there are plenty of other topics fans will be learning about during the only two weeks of practices that are open to the public during the year. We asked subscribers what they wanted us to speculate on for the last "Sunday slant" article before practices kick off on Friday.

Who are the players that are "most likely to ____," and fans filled in the blank on the Winter Park Whispers subscriber message board. Here are their inquiries and our speculation.

Most likely to ...

… surprise in camp: Those that didn't follow our coverage around organized team activities and minicamp will want to check out rookie quarterback Joe Webb, who was drafted with a switch to receiver in mind but impressed the coaching staff enough at the end of rookie minicamp to earn a shot at quarterback during the May and June practices.

What we saw from there was a well-built physical specimen who showed a strong arm and looked poised in a pocket that admittedly was never really pressured – there are no pads until training camp. How Webb handles the pressure in training camp and preseason will go a long way to shaping the three quarterbacks the Vikings keep. He has a chance to become their third quarterback, the developmental guy, if he shows well. So far, all the reviews from other players are encouraging when it comes to his mental aptitude. Can will he handle it when "the bullets are live?"

… get traded: For a team looking to make a Super Bowl run, trading away talent that is valuable enough to gain draft picks in return doesn't seem like a good idea. However, if Webb continues to impress in the preseason, the Vikings could feel a lot better looking to try to move Sage Rosenfels in early September, before the final roster moves are needed. There is a place for Rosenfels in the NFL, but finding a suitor willing to trade anything more than a low-round draft choice for his $2.7 million salary might be the biggest obstacle.

… get injured in camp: Sidney Rice (hip) might not start out camp at full strength, and the same goes for linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Cedric Griffin. But when it comes to camp injuries, it seems like the speedy horses – the wide receivers – are the ones that get laid up the most with their tightly wound hamstrings. Of course, this is wild speculation and guessing, but with his history of nagging injuries, we'll go with Bernard Berrian. If "B Twice" can prove us wrong, more power to the Vikings' passing game out of the gate.

… get cut: When the Vikings enter training, they will have 80 on their roster. When they enter the regular season, they will be down to 53 (plus an eight-man practice squad). That means at least 27 players, and probably more if they pick up a player or two that were cut by other teams, will be on the waiver wire. Just like with the trade market, the Vikings aren't likely to make any surprising moves, but if Griffin can pull a miracle timetable for his recovery, it could open up the possibility that a veteran like Benny Sapp or Lito Sheppard's value is diminished. But if we're looking for a more realistic option from last year's roster, tight end Garrett Mills could be the choice if rookie Mickey Shuler can prove to be a well-rounded tight end capable of blocking and receiving. With Jim Kleinsasser nearing the end of his career, finding a developmental blocking tight end would be a wise move for the future.

… go to the doghouse: Head coach Brad Childress has been easing up on his once hard-core ways as the players get accustomed to his expectations, so there haven't been any big dust-ups the last couple of years. Adrian Peterson skipping minicamp clearly irked Childress, but the two sound like they've put it behind them and alienating one of the biggest talents isn't going to help. More likely is a maverick younger player who isn't broke into the Childress ways, but with a veteran team there aren't many of those types and there are more guiding forces within the locker room to keep that from happening.

… get replaced in the starting lineup: Making changes to the starting lineup is always a combination of players not performing up to par and backups pushing for time. Nowhere is that more apparent than at safety. Although the Vikings' Tampa-2 defensive scheme doesn't allow for free-lancing, only one interception from Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson combined should be unacceptable. Jamarca Sanford is the backup pushing for time and the way the team interchanges responsibilities with their safeties, either Williams or Johnson is a possibility. Forced to choose, we would opt to hope Johnson can continue to improve and send Williams a message.

… be the third running back: Albert Young. Although the Vikings picked up Ryan Moats in June, that signing came after their practices had concluded, so he will have a long way to go in about a month of training camp and preseason to unseat Young, who has had two years in the Vikings' system. When we asked Tarvaris Jackson for a couple of lesser-known players that have impressed this offseason, Young was the first one he mentioned.

… be the starting secondary in Week 1: Despite the possibility of Sanford pushing for playing time, the coaches might want to opt to give Williams and Johnson a chance to prove themselves early in the season. Most people assume that without Griffin, Lito Sheppard is the lock to be the starting corner in the opener against the Saints. We think that's the most likely option, but far from a lock. Benny Sapp was that player last year when Winfield was out with a fractured foot, Asher Allen has impressed this year, and Chris Cook was drafted in the second round. Any of those are possibilities, but we'll take the safe route when assembling the starting lineup in New Orleans because this is by no means a rebuilding effort: Winfield, Sheppard, Johnson and Williams.

… win the nickel CB job: Allen and Sapp are the top options here. We choose Allen. That would be a shakeup in the depth chart from last year, but Allen has been making progress since joining the team in the third round of the 2009 draft. He has learned to apply himself more and appears ready to prove himself over the next six weeks.

... win the 3rd QB job: Eventually the Vikings have to find their quarterback of the future. If it's not Tarvaris Jackson, maybe the front office and coaching staff can stomach another offseason drama with Brett Favre in 2011 and work with Webb this year in hopes of him being ready in 2012.

… be the most impressive player coming out of training camp: Linemen, offensive or defensive, don't get much credit in training camp, so we'll stay away from them. One person that is focused on dedicating himself to improving this year is linebacker Erin Henderson. Because of the players in front of him, it will be tough for him to break into a starting role this year, but if injuries force him into action, he would like nothing more than to be part of a starting lineup that includes his brother E.J. right next to him. Look for him to make that case in the preseason games, when he'll get a lot of action.

… show the biggest improvement in his second year:Phil Loadholt proved serviceable in his first season, but getting another year in the system should help. However, despite winning offensive rookie of the year, Percy Harvin seems to have limitless upside. He's the choice for this category. Remember, Harvin missed some of last offseason and wasn't able to practice all the time last year. If migraine headaches can become manageable in his second NFL season, he could be the Vikings' leading receiver and become a Pro Bowl player at receiver in addition to kick returner.


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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