It feels weird to say it in mid-July, but it’s an exciting time for teams around the NFL. Football is back, at least the practicing portion of it. Teams around the league are reporting for training camp this week. It’s three weeks of drills, team meetings, scrimmages and watching a lot of film. It’s a necessary evil for players, and for fans it’s a chance to get a little closer to their favorite athletes.
Another season is here, and it starts Thursday as Vikings players, coaches and team officials report to Minnesota State University in Mankato for training camp. It figures to be one of the most intriguing training camps for the Vikings in recent memory, with a lot of new faces and an almost entirely new coaching staff. Practices officially begin Friday, with the preseason beginning on Aug. 8 and the team’s first regular season home game at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 14 against the New England Patriots.
With training camp starting this week, here are six things to keep an eye on over the course of the next several weeks as we head into the season.
Who will emerge as the starting QB?
The Vikings enter training camp with three quarterbacks: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. The coaching staff has said that the competition for the starting job is wide open, but the consensus among fans and media is that Ponder is last out of that group. The popular theory is that Cassel starts the season behind center so that Bridgewater can take the time to grasp the NFL game better. Then if the Vikings get off to a slow start, let Bridgewater get some playing time and see how he does. Bridgewater has surprised enough people early in practices and workouts that he could be named the starter, but he would have to have almost a perfect training camp and a good preseason to get there. It’s the most interesting position at training camp.
What will the defensive line look like?
There’s no question the defensive line will look a lot different this year with Jared Allen going to the Chicago Bears and Kevin Williams to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency. The Vikings brought in Corey Wootton, Linval Joseph and return Brian Robison, Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen as the meat of the defensive line. The Vikings defense struggled last year and was statistically very average by NFL standards. If they’re going to be better this year, it starts with the defensive line putting pressure on opposing offenses.
Can the secondary step up to keep offenses honest?
The secondary will have a different look this year as well with the departure of Chris Cook. For die-hard Vikings fans, that’s actually a good thing since he never got one interception and was often targeted by quarterbacks. The Vikings brought in Captain Munnerlyn from Carolina in free agency and bring back a group including Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels. There are also plenty of newcomers that could get a look in the season but will need to prove themselves in training camp to earn a spot. There are three rookies, headlined by Antone Exum. The Vikings were vulnerable in the secondary last year and will need to be better to have in improved 2014-15 season.
When will Anthony Barr see the field?
Vikings fans were on the edge of their seat during the first round of the NFL Draft when they were on the clock with their top pick and Johnny Manziel still available. The Vikings went defense with linebacker Anthony Barr out of UCLA, leading most fans to say “Who?!” Barr is clearly an athlete, switching from running back to linebacker in college and turning himself into a first-round draft choice. It’s not clear which linebacker spot he’ll play or often he’ll see the field; that’s what training camp is for. His fortune is that the Vikings return their leading tackler in Chad Greenway and a veteran in Jasper Brinkley. There’s also Audio Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, who all enter the season fighting for roster spots. It will be interesting to see who emerges as camp progresses.
Who backs up Adrian Peterson at running back?
Adrian Peterson will obviously get the bulk of the carries this year, but who has the opportunity to back him up? Toby Gerhart left in free agency, leaving Matt Asiata as the lone returner with legitimate experience. Joe Banyard, Jerome Felton and Zach Line have limited experience, and the Vikings prefer to use Felton as a fullback, so that leaves rookie Jerick McKinnon with a unique opportunity. With a solid training camp, he could earn the back-up running back job. That’s big, because reserves are only an injury away from getting on the field.
Who will become consistent for the Vikings at wide receiver?
The Vikings really didn’t have a No. 1 option last year at wide receiver, and perhaps the biggest reason for that was inconsistency at quarterback. Greg Jennings should be the clear cut No. 1, and that could happen if Cassel plays as those two formed a chemistry last season. Cordarrelle Patterson emerged as a rookie, but is more of a short-yardage receiver who tries to extend plays with his speed. That leaves Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Kyle Rudolph as the other main options. Don’t sleep on Adam Thielen, who impressed coaches at training camp last year. With Norv Turner running the offense this year, Peterson could even see some passes out of the backfield. There’s also the wildcard of Bridgewater assuming quarterback duties. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on as training camp progresses.
The team reports to Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Thursday and practice starts Friday. Football season is here, Vikings fans. Enjoy the ride.