We’re almost to the middle of July, which means NFL training camps are just around the corner.
The Minnesota Vikings are changing things up just a bit this year, which is likely their final time at Minnesota State University-Mankato. The Vikings are building a large practice facility with corporate offices that should be done in time for training camp in 2018.
This year, quarterbacks, rookies and players who haven’t accrued a full NFL season will report to Mankato on Sunday, July 23. The rest of the team reports on Wednesday, July 26. It’s a similar concept to pitchers and catchers reporting early to MLB spring training.
The Vikings will have practices July 24-26, and the first full team practice will be July 27. There are a lot of things to monitor at training camp this year. Here are just four.
Running Back Battle
It could be quite a battle to determine who will replace Adrian Peterson as the Vikings’ starting running back. And it may take longer than training camp to get it figured out. The Vikings signed Latavius Murray in free agency. He’s entering his fifth NFL season and was a threat last year both in the run and pass game. He rushed for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 33 passes for 264 yards. He ran for more than 1,000 yard and six touchdowns two seasons ago. But he had offseason ankle surgery, and it’s not known if he’ll be 100 percent for training camp. He’s said he will be, but we won’t know for sure until he gets out there and practices.
His biggest competition is likely Dalvin Cook, the running back from Florida State the Vikings drafted in the second round. He’s already impressed in early workouts with his speed, strength and agility. In three seasons with the Seminoles, Cook ran for more than 4,400 yards and 46 touchdowns. He was also the Orange Bowl MVP with 207 total yards and a touchdown against Michigan.
The battle between Murray and Cook should be fun to watch, but don’t rule out Jerick McKinnon. He’s effective out of the backfield in the pass game, and ran for more than 500 yards in seven starts last year.
Starting Center Battle
It’s no secret that the Vikings’ offensive line was a disaster last year. It was one of the main reasons Minnesota had the worst rushing offense in the NFL in 2016. It’s also, in a roundabout way, the reason why Sam Bradford was the most accurate passer in the league last year. He didn’t have the time to let a play develop, so he relied on completing short passes before defenders could get to him.
That’s why the Vikings wasted no time with getting offensive line help in the draft, taking Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third round. Joe Berger and Nick Easton handled center duties last season for the Vikings, but there’s every expectation that Elflein will win the starting center job between training camp and preseason play. Elflein started on the Buckeyes’ offensive line three straight years, one of the top offenses in college football.
Michael Floyd’s struggles with alcohol have been well-documented. First, it was his drunk driving arrest in college while at Notre Dame. Then, it was his extreme DUI last season while he was with the Arizona Cardinals. Most recently, he violated the terms of house arrest for that DUI after drinking kombucha, a probiotic tea that actually contains alcohol. As a result, he spent one day in jail.
Floyd has proven that, if he can stay clean, he’s a quality receiver in the NFL. He caught 33 passes and four touchdowns in seven starts last year for the Cardinals. He’s a solid route runner and isn’t afraid to go over the middle and take a hit to make a catch. He’s been a 1,000-yard receiver in his career and shown he can make plays. He’s the veteran presence a receiving corps like the Vikings need, and he can challenge Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as the team’s primary targets for Bradford if he puts the work in.
Staying alcohol-free is the biggest hurdle here, and “kombuchagate” was an honest mistake in his eyes. Now the problem for the Vikings is Floyd could be subject to an NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The league may punish him for his previous issues before he can get the chance to prove himself when it matters. So will it be worth waiting on him for the Vikings if he does get suspended? They hope so, and he can prove that to a certain extent by how he carries himself at training camp.
Can Trae Waynes Emerge?
The Vikings are looking for Trae Waynes to emerge as a top player in the secondary this year. He was a first-round draft pick back in 2015, and has now played two full seasons with the Vikings. He has shown flashes of his talent, but is still working on consistency with defending the opponent’s top receivers. That has as much to do with communication in the secondary as it does skill.
In eight starts last year, Waynes had 50 tackles, 42 solo tackles and 11 passes deflected with three interceptions. He’s now entering his third season, and the Vikings are looking for him to take over a starting cornerback job from veteran Terence Newman. Waynes started six of the last eight games last season, and has seen much of the first-team work in offseason practices. He’ll still give up some plays, most corners do. But if he can step up and become a premiere defender, it changes a lot of things for the Vikings’ defense.
Football is almost back, Vikings fans. And there are all sorts of story lines to follow as training camp begins. What we need to remember is that for the players in position battles, it’s up to them to put in the work to win the job. They know what’s expected of them, but going out and executing it is entirely up to them.