This week on the vikings.com Blog, we’re breaking down the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – this Saturday night in Tennessee – approaches. We’ve already looked at the offensive line, defensive line and tight ends. Up next are the defensive backs and wide receivers.
The DB position, especially as it relates to CBs, is much like the defensive line in that playing time will be distributed among several players this year for the Vikings. Just as the DL has a couple of starters cemented in their positions (DE Jared Allen and DT Kevin Williams), the CB spot has the same with Cedric Griffin (assuming he’s healthy enough to play) and Antoine Winfield. After that, though, there is some intense competition for playing time.
Garnering most of the snaps with the second-team base defense at CB are Asher Allen, Chris Cook and Marcus Sherels. All three of these players have different strengths; Allen is a smart player, Cook might have the most raw ability and Sherels has grit. If you characterize Winfield and Griffin as CBs #1 and #2, then Allen, Cook and Sherels comprise CBs #3-5, in some order. Because Cook gets first-team looks in the nickel package (three CBs on the field), I’ll give the edge to him as being the #3 CB. Allen and Sherels get primarily second-team looks in the nickel package, with Allen playing the slot and Sherels on the outside.
After the five aforementioned CBs, the next guys in line (in my opinion) are Brandon Burton, Cord Parks and Devon Torrence. Burton, a rookie fifth-round pick this year, and Parks got third-team reps on Wednesday morning, so perhaps they are slightly ahead of Torrence. But don’t count Torrence out, either. He’s a tremendous athlete (was drafted to play pro baseball) and will challenge for a roster spot this year. Burton has gotten some run with the second-team nickel, so that puts him in the top six CBs.
Let’s slide up to the safety spot, where it looks like Husain Abdullah will have one starting spot and then Tyrell Johnson and Jamarca Sanford will battle for the other. Right now I’d give the edge to Sanford, partly because Johnson is dealing with a hamstring, but this is a close race and won’t be decided for a while. We’re going to need preseason games to figure this one out.
After those three players, I think you’ve got to look at rookie Mistral Raymond. I’ve talked about the eye test on the blog a lot this training camp and Raymond is a guy that passes the eye test. He measures in at 6-1, 194 pounds and he is a fluid athlete. He played both CB and S in college, but with the Vikings I think he’ll be a safety. Abdullah was not at practice on Wednesday morning, and it was Raymond who filled in by taking first-team reps. So I’d put him as the #4 safety right now, with special teams star Eric Frampton right behind. He’s a capable, reliable player, no matter where you put him on the field.
Guys not yet mentioned are Chris Adingupu, Simeon Castille and Ryan Hill. It’s important to not count those guys out because we’ve only seen them for eight days and we haven’t even played a preseason game yet. Adingupu made a great play during 7-on-7 Wednesday morning, displaying great closing speed on a deep pass.
Again, the important thing to remember as we breakdown the roster position-by-position is that the depth charts are not well-defined yet. Coaches are still experimenting with rotations and combinations and we won’t have a clear indication of who will make the roster until we get closer to the end of August.
Let’s move on to the WRs, where we have a bunch of guys competing for what should amount to five or maybe six spots. As is the case with several other areas of the roster, we know a couple of the established starters – Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin. Beyond that, though, there is some intense competition for playing time and roles.
Let’s start with Michael Jenkins, who was brought in just before camp and is, in my mind, a sure thing to make the roster because of his knowledge of the offense, leadership and versatility. After that, there’s a deep pool of players battling for depth chart position, including free agent pickup Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson. After those players, it’s Manny Arceneaux, Andre Holmes, Dominique Johnson and Stephen Burton battling for position. Return capability could become an important factor in roster decisions at WR. Camarillo was the Vikings punt returner last season, Johnson has return ability and I’ve also seen Burton take reps at returner during camp.
A lot of fans were worried about the WR position when Sidney Rice chose to leave and sign with Seattle, but I actually think this is a deep position for the Vikings. Do they have an embarrassment of riches? Maybe not. But they do have a deep group of capable players and I’m certain that Vikings coaches and scouts will have to make some difficult decisions that will land some pretty good football players on the street and eventually on other rosters.
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It’s natural for offenses to come along slower than defenses in training camp and the preseason, largely because offenses rely on rhythm and timing. Add in the fact that the lockout took away minicamps and OTAs, and offenses are at an even greater disadvantage.
The Vikings are certainly no exception to that rule, especially with two new QBs and a bunch of new WRs added to the mix since the end of the 2010 season. Individual players have performed well quite often at 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, but as a group there is still plenty of progress to be made.
The good news is that progress is being made and Vikings coaches are pleased with the way the team is working. Things are going in the right direction.
“I think the guys are getting better each day,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Tuesday. “They’re starting to absorb the concepts and the techniques that we’re teaching. We haven’t had a lot of time and we’ve acknowledged that, but they’ve done a superb job of getting better every day, focusing on an area of improvement every day rather just going out there and mindlessly working through practice.”
Musgrave credited head coach Leslie Frazier for the way he’s organized this training camp, especially in light of the unusual CBA-related circumstances that surrounded the beginning of camp.
“The practices are structured where we are covering each and every situation,” Musgrave explained. “The players feel prepared, we feel prepared as coaches, we’re just scratching the surface of in terms of having enough turns at our plays where we’re real precise and good at them.”
The next big step in the offense’s progression will come on Saturday night when the Vikings play at the Tennessee Titans for the preseason opener. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a crisp, mistake-free performance by the offense. But it’s certainly fair to expect the offense to continue its progression and the bottom line is the offense must be “all systems go” by the time the regular season rolls around.
Musgrave certainly understands that.
“We’re not anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of the precision of the passing game,” Musgrave said. “I think guys know what they’re doing, but in terms of having the number of turns it takes to be good at it, we’re not there. But fortunately we’ll have until September 11 to get good at those things.”
The current status of the Vikings offense is nothing about which to be alarmed. In fact, Vikings fans should take solace in the fact that they’ll have a 13-year veteran QB in Donovan McNabb at the helm and there will be plenty of talent around McNabb to get the offense firing on all cylinders.
Here are a few notes from Wednesday morning’s practice…
– The Vikings worked for over two hours in ideal weather conditions. The heat has been dialed back several notches, the sun is shining and the blustery winds from Tuesday have vanished. Frazier had his team in shorts, shoulder pads/jerseys and helmets for the workout.
– Another outstanding crowd packed the bleachers and standing-room only sections of 2011 Verizon Vikings Training Camp. I know I’ve mentioned this countless times during camp, but I can’t say enough about how great Vikings fans have been to the team over the last 10 days. All the practices are well-attended, the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone is constantly buzzing, Vikings Village is rocking and the support from the local Mankato community has been terrific.
– The Vikings have practiced “the little things” a lot during this camp. It might sound like a foregone conclusion that this is the case, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how important some facets of the game can be, even though we only see them on occasion. For example, I saw special teams coordinator Mike Priefer working with his group on Tuesday in the back of the endzone. They were practicing punting while backed up and they also worked on situations where the team would intentionally take a safety (winning by six points, backed up on your own 1-yardline with less than a minute to go). Other “little things” I’ve seen the Vikings working on recently: Hail Mary, rushing onto the field to kick a FG with time running out, onside kick, punt after safety and diving to save a touchback on a punt.
– S Husain Abdullah was absent from practice on Wednesday as he attends the annual Iftar Dinner at the White House on Wednesday night, celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Rookie S Mistral Raymond got most of the work with the first-team, which is an interesting development.
– LB Jasper Brinkley has been working mostly with the second-team defense, but he’s a candidate to earn a job with the first-team if he can outperform Erin Henderson during camp and the preseason. Right now Henderson is the favorite to fill the role vacated by Ben Leber’s departure, but Brinkley has been good in camp and he helped himself today by intercepting a pass during 7-on-7 drills.
– The offense bounced back immediately after Brinkley’s INT, though. Ponder zipped a pass in to WR Greg Camarillo on the next play for what would’ve been a large gain down the left seam. On the last play of 7-on-7, Ponder and Camarillo connected again, this time on the right side of the field.
– There were three great catches that I noticed during the team’s two-minute drill part of practice. The first one was an all-hands catch by TE Kyle Rudolph. He had a defender draped all over him and the pass was thrown perfectly by Joe Webb to his outside shoulder. Rudolph lunged for the ball, got his hands underneath it and hauled in the catch while maintaining possession all the way through the play. The second great catch was by WR Devin Aromashodu down the sideline. He was led perfectly by Ponder and also got two feet in bounds before crossing the boundary. The third catch was on a pass from Webb to WR Manny Arceneaux down the right side that put the offense in FG range with less than a minute to play.
– Passing the eye test today: WR Devin Aromashodu, QB Christian Ponder, S Mistral Raymond and TE Kyle Rudolph.
– A group of political leaders from Ramsey County was at practice and both Vikings Owner/Chairman Zygi Wilf and VP of Public Affairs/Stadium Development Lester Bagley spoke with reporters after practice.
– The defensive line signed autographs in the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone.
– The Vikings have a one-hour walk-through Wednesday afternoon beginning at 3:00 p.m.
Tags: Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder, Devini Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Joe Webb, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Manny Arceneaux, Mistral Raymond
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 43 Comments »