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10 Takeaways from Spielman's State of the Vikings

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The man who constructed the Vikings roster couldn't be more excited for training camp.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman is heading into his 11th season in Minnesota and has used every avenue possible — the draft, free agency, and trades — to assemble the 2017 Vikings.

With the rookies and select other players starting training camp Sunday and the rest of the team scheduled to report Wednesday, Spielman recently offered his assessment of the team. He chatted with Vikings Entertainment Network about Minnesota's offense, what to expect on defense and the position battles on special teams.

Spielman gave fans a peek at what he's looking for down in Mankato.

"From myself and Coach Zimmer, we can't wait to get started," Spielman said. "And we look forward to a very, very successful 2017 season."

Here are 10 observations from Spielman's state of the Vikings:

OFFENSE

The signal callers

There is plenty of focus on both Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, but Spielman said "we're very fortunate to have both of these guys on our roster."

Spielman noted that he was impressed by Bradford's performance in 2016 despite joining the roster just 15 days before the season opener. Bradford threw for 3,877 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2016.

"Sam Bradford did an incredible job last year coming in under the circumstances he had to face," Spielman said.

Toting the rock

Spielman said Minnesota's running back will have a "new look" in 2016. The Vikings added Latavius Murray in free agency and Dalvin Cook in the draft to go along with 2016 leading rusher Jerick McKinnon.

"He is a back with tremendous speed, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is very effective in pass protection," Spielman said. "Look out for him near the goal line as he had 12 touchdowns last year."

Spielman noted that each player brings something special, and the collective group should produce results on offense.

"With a combination of those three running backs, all of them having different strengths and weaknesses, we feel this will be a huge asset in improving our running game," Spielman said.

The main priority

There was no mistaking Minnesota's top area of focus after the 2016 season, as Spielman points out early in his assessment that the "offensive line was the area we wanted to concentrate on the most this offseason." 

While Spielman highlighted free agency additions Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, plus third-round pick Pat Elflein, he also mentioned a returner who is in a new role.

T.J. Clemmings has made 30 starts at tackle the past two seasons but has shifted to the interior of the line.

"The biggest interest that you're going to want to hear about is that we moved T.J. Clemmings from offensive tackle inside to offensive guard," Spielman said. "He seemed to be very comfortable when we moved him there this offseason."

Keep an eye on…

Spielman explained in his evaluation that Minnesota's top four wide receivers are Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell and Michael Floyd.

There will be a battle for the remaining few spots, but Spielman cautioned fans to not forget about the longest-tenured Vikings receiver.

"You won't want to forget about Jarius Wright though, every time he seems to get his opportunity in games, he ends up making plays," Spielman said. "This is going to be a very competitive group, and we're looking forward to seeing who emerges coming out of Mankato."

DEFENSE

Veteran leadership

Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter could easily be playing the bulk of the snaps at defensive end in 2017.

But a wily veteran in Brian Robison will also likely have an impact, too.

"We're very fortunate to have two talented and athletic defensive ends who can rush the passer, but also don't forget about B-Rob," Spielman said. "Brian has done a tremendous job not only playing left end for us, but gives us some flexibility to rush inside in our nickel defense." 

Robison had 7.5 sacks in 2016 and ranks among the top 10 all-time sacks leaders in franchise history with 56.

Dynamic duo in the middle

The third linebacker spot is up for grabs after the retirement of Chad Greenway.

But the other two spots are locked down by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, both in the Vikings base defense and in nickel situations where Minnesota employs just two linebackers on the field.

Spielman highlighted the former UCLA standouts in his assessment of the defense.

"Two positions we know are stable are Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks," Spielman said. "Both of them bring tremendous value to our defense not only as run stoppers, but also are effective versus the pass."

Key cornerstones in the secondary

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer made his mark in the NFL by elevating the play of countless defensive backs.

That includes a trio of Vikings cornerbacks in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Terence Newman. Rhodes and Waynes are budding stars, while Newman has been around the block a time or two.

"The corner position is the position that makes Coach Zimmer's defense go," Spielman said. "We're very fortunate to have Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, both young upcoming corners.

"The key signing we had this offseason was signing back the ageless wonder, Terence Newman," Spielman added. "At 38 years old, he's still playing at a high level and can play multiple positions."

Harry the Hitman

Harrison Smith can do it all, and his versatility doesn't go unnoticed by Spielman.

Smith is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl nods and is has cemented himself as one of the league's best safeties.

"The quarterback of the defense is Pro Bowler Harrison Smith," Spielman said. "Not only can he play well against the run and has tremendous ability to blitz off the edge, but is also very effective in coverage which make shim one of the top safeties in the league."

SPECIAL TEAMS 

Kai or Koehn? 

The kicking battle between Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn is in full swing.

Both players were about even during spring practices, and each brings a unique skill set to Mankato.

"His strength is his accuracy on field goals … he had 100 percent last year," Spielman said of Forbath. "Koehn has tremendous leg strength and has now only shown that on his field goals and PATs, but also what he's been able to do on kickoffs."

Stating their case

The other position battle on special teams will be between punters Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank.

Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer will use multiple factors to evaluate them, including hang time, direction and distance.

But don't forget about holding duties, as each will be called upon that job for field goals and extra points. 

"Quigley has had game experience and is a great directional punter and excellent hang time," Spielman said. "Symmank is a younger punter who has tremendous leg strength and also shows tremendous hang time.

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