Training camp is here, so football is back. The Vikings have reported to Mankato ready to improve upon last season’s collapse. With new talent entering the fold, new position battles are underway.
While the running back battle will be fun to keep an eye on, the Vikings will use a committee throughout the year. Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, and Jerick McKinnon will each get touches. Instead of looking at this battle, I’m going to look at a few others.
The Vikings opted not to re-sign Cordarrelle Patterson in the offseason so they lost one of the best return men of all-time. They drafted two wide receivers that they hope can take on that role in Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley. Both of these guys will have a shot in camp to earn a roster spot as a specialist, and they have some competition.
Marcus Sherels has been the punt returner for a few years now, so he is never out of contention. With five career punt return touchdowns his name is in the Vikings’ record books. He has shown he can produce and should be the leader in the clubhouse for now.
Jerick McKinnon is another guy to keep an eye on. While special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said he wants Dalvin Cook to get a shot on returns, McKinnon is a much more reasonable option. McKinnon won’t see as many touches in the backfield, but the Vikings would be crazy not to get him the ball in space. He is an explosive runner that is incredibly fun to watch. And from a fan’s perspective, Jerick is the player most likely to test the limits on a touchdown celebration. Receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs could be options, but I’d expect the Vikings to save their top targets for offense only.
Weakside (Will) Linebacker
Once Chad Greenway officially retired, the Vikings had to find a way to replace him. He didn’t play a ton of snaps over the last few years as the defense shifted and played more out of a nickel set. They will need to find someone that can fill in occasionally next to Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.
Elijah Lee was drafted in April to be a possible replacement, but he likely isn’t an option heading into camp. Lee is undersized and new to the playbook but a great camp can get him into contention. Another rookie, Ben Gedeon, is a more likely choice. He is young, has a keen nose for the ball, can make tackles, and he was a leader for Michigan‘s defense last season. However, as a two-down linebacker, he may miss out on a chance to start week one.
Edmond Robinson and Emmanuel Lamur are veterans in the defense that can fill in for now, but probably aren’t options moving forward barring a huge year. But for the 2017-18 season, they seem the likely candidates for the job, at least to start.
The biggest threat to Robinson and Lamur is second-year linebacker Kentrell Brothers. As a senior in 2015, Brothers led all college football players with 152 total tackles. He can find the ball and attack, which is what every defense needs. Since he won’t be used in most passing situations, his run presence could be enough to win a job. If not he will be a great special teamer.
The Vikings roster is pretty much set before the preseason games even start, but there is still some evaluating to be done. Camp will clear things up before the week one matchup on Monday Night Football.