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17 Questions that Vikings Can Answer During 2017 Training Camp

Posted Jul 21, 2017

The 2017 Verizon Vikings Training Camp will be the 52nd summer session and final hosted by Minnesota State University, Mankato.

This year’s team will be tasked with answering multiple questions through practices and preseason games, particularly on offense — a group that features multiple new faces — and special teams — a unit with several players competing for jobs.

Despite relative continuity on defense, the Vikings also have a few questions to answer on that side of the ball.

Here are 17 questions facing the Vikings as camp opens (rookies arrive on July 23 and veterans report July 26):

What will the RB rotation look like? | By Lindsey Young | @LindseyMNSports

Only one familiar face is returning from the Vikings 2016 running back rotation. Jerick McKinnon, entering his fourth season in Purple, led the team with 539 rushing yards last season. Minnesota added two new backs, signing Latavius Murray in free agency and moving up in the draft to select Dalvin Cook 41st overall. It will be interesting to see the rotation that Minnesota and new running back coach Kennedy Polamalu in the post-Adrian Peterson era. The rookie had a standout career at Florida State and received the majority of first-team reps during minicamp, as Murray has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Murray, who had a 1,000-yard performance in 2015 and recorded 788 yards on the ground in 2016, is expected to be back on the field for training camp.

How will the new tackles fare? | By Mike Wobschall | @wobby

The Vikings started a handful of left tackles and had two handfuls of starting offensive line combinations in 2016, the product of a rash of injuries at the position. Injuries are unpredictable, but they’ve also been avoidable for the Vikings two new starting tackles – Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. Reiff has missed three games in four seasons as a full-time starter and Remmers has never missed a start in 37 games due to injury. From an availability standpoint alone, they represent an upgrade for the Vikings front. They are also both athletic and stout run blockers, which will help them set the tone up front as the Vikings look to improve the ground game and provide QB Sam Bradford with more protection.

Will there be changes on the interior offensive line? | By Craig Peters | @pcraigers

The Vikings lined up Alex Boone at left guard, Nick Easton at center and Joe Berger at right guard with the first team during the offseason program. It was the same combination that Minnesota used last year against Indianapolis and at Green Bay. Berger opened last season at center, and Easton replaced him because of injury against Dallas and finished the season. Berger then filled in for Brandon Fusco late. The Vikings drafted center Pat Elflein and guard Danny Isidora. They also moved T.J. Clemmings to guard.

Will Laquon Treadwell have an increased role? | By Lindsey Young | @LindseyMNSports

All eyes are on Laquon Treadwell heading into the 2017 season. The Vikings drafted Treadwell 23rd overall in 2016, and as a rookie he had just one catch for 15 yards. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said during the offseason that he believes Treadwell wasn’t 100 percent healthy in his debut season, that he’s “catching the ball really well and running good routes” and added that he’s “looked much different than he did a year ago.” Zimmer also emphasized that the receiver is an extremely hard worker and is doing everything he can to earn an expanded role on offense in year two. Treadwell will be joining returning starting receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The Vikings also are returning Jarius Wright and added veteran Michael Floyd through free agency.

How does offseason with offense help Sam? | By Eric Smith | @Eric_L_Smith

Imagine switching from Spanish to French class and then being expected to take a massive exam each Sunday. That was Sam Bradford’s world in 2016 after arriving in Minnesota just 15 days before the season opener. Almost 11 months later, Bradford has had time to study up and get comfortable with the test material, which in this case is Pat Shurmur’s offense. But he is also more familiar with classmates such as Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Bradford set an NFL record for completion percentage in a season at 71.6 while learning his new language on the fly. With more time to be prepared for those final exams, Bradford will aim to be one of the top students in his class.

How is Teddy progressing in rehab? | By Craig Peters | @pcraigers

Teddy Bridgewater has shown progress in his rehab from last August’s knee injury. Bridgewater’s rehab process involved dropping back and making throws during the Vikings Organized Team Activity practices, and he’s continued to keep fans posted through his Instagram account. Bridgewater is yet to be cleared, however, to practice or play in a game, but his spirit remains determined. A fan favorite since his 2014 rookie season, Bridgewater’s progress is sure to be a hot topic in Mankato.

What is the offensive identity under Shurmur going to be? | By Craig Peters | @pcraigers

Fans that caught the final nine games of 2016 when Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur took over on an interim basis saw incorporation of quick passes but also a 71-yard touchdown to Adam Thielen that began with moving Sam Bradford out of the pocket, as well as Minnesota recording its best rushing output (124 yards on 28 carries) in the finale. We recently took a deeper look at how the offense might evolve under Shurmur. Most teams like to strike a balance between their running and passing games. Look for Minnesota to try to have more explosive plays in both this season.

Will there be a new starter at defensive end? | By Mike Wobschall | @wobby

Probably, and it will be Danielle Hunter. But Brian Robison is far from being phased out. If anything, Robison is reinventing himself in Mike Zimmer’s defense. He can still hold down his end of the bargain at left defensive end, but Robison is also effective being kicked inside to rush the passer in sub packages and he can be used as an occasional drop defender. Hunter, meanwhile, found a way to collect 12.5 sacks in a part-time role last season. It will be fun to watch what he can do as he enters his third season and a potential full-time starting job.

Who will be the new base third LB? | By Mike Wobschall | @wobby

The retirement of Chad Greenway has opened up a vacancy at linebacker in the Vikings base defense. The Vikings can go a number of different ways in filling the void. Two rookies – Ben Gedeon and Elijah Lee – will battle for depth chart positioning and then three veterans – Kentrell Brothers, Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson – will be in the mix for playing time, too. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are the Vikings two three-down linebackers, so the third spot likely will be a 20-25 snap-per-game role, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important camp battle to watch this July and August.

Who is the new nickel DB? | By Lindsey Young | @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings used the nickel defense more than their base 4-3 in 2016, but it doesn’t seem set in stone who Minnesota’s primarily nickel back will be in 2017. Captain Munnerlyn filled the role for three seasons in Minnesota before signing with the Panthers this spring as a free agent. Second-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who primarily played on special teams in 2016, received reps in the slot during minicamp and could be considered a likely candidate to take over at nickel. Terence Newman also could be an option, however. The veteran corner is entering his 15th NFL season and in 2016 often played on the edge opposite Xavier Rhodes. If Trae Waynes has a breakout year and steps into the full-time starting position, however, Newman could slide inside to nickel or be utilized in a backup/rotational role.

Will Vikings enable Datone Jones & Will Sutton to flourish? | By Eric Smith | @Eric_L_Smith

The Vikings went within their own division to help beef up their defensive line. Minnesota first added defensive tackle Datone Jones, who was with Green Bay since 2013. Then the Vikings signed defensive tackle Will Sutton, who formerly resided in Chicago. Although neither have put up eye-popping numbers in their careers, the Vikings believe both could have an impact role in Purple. Jones played defensive end and outside linebacker in Green Bay, but the Vikings have plugged him in the middle of the line and believe he can be more comfortable there. Sutton, meanwhile, was in a 3-4 defense in Chicago but is thrilled to join a 4-3 scheme. He was one of the country’s top college defensive players at Arizona State while in a 4-3 system.

What will Newman’s role be this season? | By Eric Smith | @Eric_L_Smith

Terence Newman continues to wow the football world. The veteran is entering his 15th season and is still an impact cornerback, which is evident by the success the 2003 first-round pick had last season. Newman was a starter at cornerback the past two seasons but may have relinquished that role to Trae Waynes. If that happens, Newman will still have an impact on the field, as he can slide over to the slot if needed and will be available behind Waynes and Xavier Rhodes. Newman, one of the most intelligent players on the roster, could also likely play safety if needed. Newman’s unquestioned leadership will be counted upon in both the secondary and the entire Vikings roster.

Who will return kickoffs? | By Mike Wobschall | @wobby

Veteran Marcus Sherels and rookie Rodney Adams are logical choices. But don’t sleep on Jerick McKinnon, either. The additions of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray at RB will put McKinnon in a three-man rotation at running back, which opens up opportunities for the ever-versatile McKinnon to remain a core special teams player for coordinator Mike Priefer. McKinnon could keep his role on offense and also be a key contributor on special teams as a gunner and the primary kickoff returner. The Vikings found a gem in McKinnon in the third round in 2014, and they continue to get the most out of him.

Will Forbath hold off Koehn at kicker? | By Eric Smith | @Eric_L_Smith

Kai or Koehn? Koehn or Kai? That battle between kickers Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn will be one of the most scrutinized position battles in Mankato and preseason games. Forbath joined the Vikings in the middle of the 2016 season and promptly made all 15 field goal tries. Koehn hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game but has a strong leg that helps him pin opponents deep on kickoffs. The battle appears even heading to training camp as both players were about even on field goal tries during team sessions of spring practices — Forbath made 20 of his 24 kicks, and Koehn hit 17 of his 20 attempts. Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer can only pick one kicker when all is said and done, and he hopes good performances by both players make it a tough decision.

The Vikings new punter will be…? | By Craig Peters | @pcraigers

Determined through camp practices and preseason games. Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank were both signed this offseason. Quigley has a leg up in NFL game experience — pausing for the eye roll at that horrible pun. OK, back to it. Quigley played in 45 games with the New York Jets from 2013-15 and six with the Arizona Cardinals last season. His career gross average is 44.6 yards (11,561 yards on 259 punts). Symmank set the Texas Tech school record for gross punting average (43.6) and averaged 46.0 per punt as a senior in 2015. Working with the coverage teams to execute punts, as well as performance as a holder for kick tries will be factors in the coaches’ evaluation.

Which rookies might contribute the quickest? | By Lindsey Young | @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings added 11 players through this year’s NFL Draft in addition to 12 undrafted free agents, all of whom will report to Mankato for training camp on Sunday. With so many first-year players joining Minnesota’s locker room, there’s sure to be a few interesting camp battles and positive performances. Of the draftees, Cook and center Pat Elflein, the Vikings third-round selection, received the most first-team reps during minicamp. It’s likely that Cook will contribute to Minnesota’s run game early on, and Elflein could also be called on early, depending on how the starting offensive line order shakes out. Another area in which we could see early rookie contributions is on special teams. Look for involvement by the likes of defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and linebackers Ben Gedeon and Elijah Lee, and expect receiver Rodney Adams to get some practice at returning kicks.

The “breakout artist” of 2017 will be…

David Morgan | By Mike Wobschall | @wobby

The Jim Kleinsasser-into-Rhett Ellison trick the Vikings pulled off provided the offense with a gritty, skilled player at the second TE spot for over a decade. David Morgan could be the next in line. Head coach Mike Zimmer has praised Morgan for his blocking skills and toughness this offseason, and he’s demonstrated the ability to help by catching the ball and by playing on special teams. He may not be in your fantasy lineup and his jersey may not be on the racks at the Vikings Locker Room Store, but Morgan may be poised for a breakout season and may become one of the more underrated and indispensable players on the roster, much like Kleinsasser and Ellison were not that long ago.

… Dalvin Cook | By Lindsey Young | @LindseyMNSports

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman traded up to snag Cook at No. 41 overall for a reason. Spielman called Cook a “great value” at that spot that they couldn’t pass up, and he came to Minnesota highly touted by league analysts as well as Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. The Vikings are returning McKinnon and added Murray in free agency, but with Murray being sidelined due to an ankle injury, Cook absorbed the majority of first-team snaps during minicamp. The rookie didn’t shy away from the responsibility; instead, he seemed to embrace the challenge and the transition. Cook is a well-built running back who offers the Vikings a new weapon in their run game, and it seems likely that Minnesota will implement a “by committee” mentality at running back in 2017. Don’t be surprised if Cook receives a healthy handful of carries and hits the ground running – literally.

… Laquon Treadwell | By Eric Smith | @Eric_L_Smith

Laquon Treadwell’s rookie season didn’t go as planned. Nagging injuries and learning the rigors of an NFL offense limited his time on the field, where he produced just one reception for 15 yards. But as Treadwell enters Year 2, he is refocused and had a strong offseason for the Vikings. Treadwell was one of the most energetic players on the field during spring drills, and cited a refreshed health and mentality as the reason he drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates alike. Treadwell will have every opportunity to earn significant playing time in 2017, and appears poised to showcase the talent that made him a first-round pick in 2016.

… Trae Waynes | By Craig Peters | @pcraigers

Although he has 30 games of experience, Waynes has only started 10 through his first two seasons, so we decided he could fall in the pre-breakout artist category of Vikings. Waynes opened the first two games of 2016 when Xavier Rhodes was sidelined and showed progression from his 2015 rookie season. He registered the first interception in U.S. Bank Stadium history when he picked off Aaron Rodgers and followed with a key pickoff of Cam Newton the next week. Waynes added an INT of Matt Barkley in the finale and led the team with 16 passes defended. He could be heading for more in 2017.