The Vikings have their first and only mandatory full-squad minicamp this weekend, with a practice Friday afternoon, two practices Saturday and one more on Sunday before many of the players head back their separate ways until it’s time to report for training camp at the end of July.
Minicamp will have several interesting storylines going on – both good and bad – that VikingUpdate.com will be following. In no particular order, these will be some.
Old Brother, Where Art Thou? – As we’ve seen too often over the last 12 months, Brett Favre doesn’t need to be present to be the center of conversation. Blame the TV media if you must (I do), but it seems no player can be interviewed without being asked about Favre. Ask Sidney Rice or Percy Harvin or Visanthe Shiancoe or his offensive linemen or Adrian Peterson. They worked with him and quickly became a highly functioning offense. But why are Ben Leber and Jared Allen being prodded? They should be asked about the apparent reprieve of the Williams Wall. We will try to divert question sessions to topics fans want to know about, although we go into it knowing we’re fighting a losing battle.
A Walk To Remember – There are several key Vikings who are recovering from injuries. While we’ve seen Cedric Griffin and Steve Hutchinson stretch, media types will be searching for them and players like E.J. Henderson and Antoine Winfield to see what sort of tangible progress they have made. In the interim, the new-look Vikings cornerback crop and linebacker Jasper Brinkley will get some valuable reps with the first-string unit.
The Replacements – Last year at this time, the mandatory minicamp was one of the first public job battles between Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson. Rumors had begun from the time word got out that Favre asked the Jets for his release following the drafting of Mark Sanchez, but there was nothing concrete saying that Favre was realistically coming to the Vikings. Rosenfels and T-Jack were in a legitimate quarterback battle. This year, you get the impression that both are merely stunt doubles for the star and that their potential battle between now and mid-August will be to win the No. 2 spot on the roster, which, for now, belongs to Jackson.
Young Guns Too – While the weekend minicamp will be a chance for the veteran-laden Vikings to all be together, the rookies and free agent signees have been near fixtures at Winter Park the last couple of months. Somewhere the coaches have decided which players are going to be given the chance to win backup spots. We are likely to find out what players have made a bigger impression on the coaching staff in that time span and those who should be worried.
Rhys Is the Word – There has been some concern expressed by Ryan Longwell concerning the potential that new kicker Rhys Lloyd will make the roster as a kickoff specialist. He has maintained that, while he isn’t a booming kickoff specialist, he often uses kickoffs, especially in road games, to gauge wind for what may be a game-winning field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Is Lloyd simply a training camp guy who takes some of the summer workload off of Longwell? Or is he a legitimate threat to earn a roster spot as a fourth specialist (along with Longwell, punter Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler)? We may know much more by Sunday night than we do Friday morning.
Isn’t That Special? – A focus of the offseason heading into the 2009 season was special teams. They were monumentally dismal in 2008, routinely surrendering touchdowns as defenders in the return game and have their own turnover/blocked kick issues when they had the ball in their own hands. Significant improvement was shown in 2009 and, as the team enters 2010, they will be looking to become a dominant unit that can keep up with the suddenly potent offense and a defense that led the league in sacks last year. What players see significant action on special teams can taken two ways – this is the way I’m going to make the team or it might be the aspect of my game that will eventually cost me my job. Ordinarily, minicamp return drills don’t draw much interest. Don’t expect this special teams to be ordinary.
Run, For Us, Run – With Adrian Peterson expected to miss most of the minicamp, it will give opportunities for players like Albert Young, Darius Reynaud and rookie Toby Gerhart to get a lot more reps and show what they could do as runners, blockers and receivers. Granted, it won’t be the kind of live hitting they will see against someone with a different color helmet, but the pecking order may be foreshadowed, especially if Gerhart gets plenty of reps.
Catch Me If You Can – Last year, the Vikings didn’t know exactly what they had in Percy Harvin. Migraines limited his exposure on the field and he was very much an unknown commodity. Sidney Rice was fielding questions about whether he was going to have a breakout season or be an injury-prone player who never reaches his full potential. The only sure thing seemed to be deep threat Bernard Berrian. As we enter minicamp 2010, Berrian looks to be the third option, not the first. Factor in Shiancoe’s emergence as a legitimate passing threat, especially in the red zone, and Berrian may be coming into this season looking to prove himself. He may have to.
Will we get all the answers we’re looking for? Not a chance. But the value of this weekend’s minicamp is that it may well give us a glimpse into what we may be seeing in September when the Vikings open the 2010 season and start their climb to what they expect to be a Super Bowl run.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.