The Vikings have wrapped their 52nd and final training camp at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
This team is turning its focus to Thursday's preseason contest at Buffalo, which will be the first of four exhibition games.
*Prior to Verizon Vikings Training Camp, the Vikings.com writers listed 17 questions that the Vikings could answer during their time on the practice field. Eleven days of whole-team practices provided multiple insights, but Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his staff have plenty of time to make final decisions before roster reductions and Minnesota's season-opener at home against the New Orleans Saints on *Monday Night Football.
We thought we'd revisit the talkers for a post-camp status update.
This question could still be a little up in the air because the Vikings haven't yet gotten a solid sample size from Latavius Murray, whom they signed as a free agent in March. Murray was sidelined for the majority of training camp but was activated from the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list on Aug. 7. He participated in individual, non-contact drills during the Vikings final two practices of camp.
Listed as RB1 on Minnesota's unofficial depth chart was Dalvin Cook, who joined Jerick McKinnon in taking first-team reps during training camp. Cook took advantage of the team's July 23 early check-in date for rookies and select players and then transitioned smoothly into the full-team practices that kicked off on July 27. He has received praise from both coaches and teammates throughout camp.
McKinnon was moved around some during camp, taking both first- and second-team reps and also seeing some special teams practice at kick returner.
How will the new tackles fare? | By Mike Wobschall |@wobby
So far, so good for new right tackle Mike Remmers. Some of the top camp standouts – Cook and Sam Bradford chief among them – were first-team offensive skill position players, and they can't impress if the blockers don't give them room and time. Riley Reiff missed time because of an injury, but toward the end of the Vikings stay in Mankato he was starting to work back into the mix. The silver lining to Reiff's injury is the team got a good look at their depth, particularly Rashod Hill. Assuming Reiff gets healthy soon, it's apparent the Vikings have at least three tackles they can rely on for 2017.
Will there be changes on the interior offensive line? | By Craig Peters |@pcraigers
Alex Boone continues to be a mainstay at left guard, and 12-season veteran Joe Berger took the majority of first-team reps at right guard, despite opening 2016 at center. Nick Easton, who started the final five games of last season in the middle, including two games flanked by Boone and Berger, opened with the 1s and is trying to fend off a challenge from third-round pick Pat Elflein, who also repped with the first team.
Easton and Elflein have kept their competition quite friendly, and each lined up a little at guard, where the Vikings moved T.J. Clemmings, who played 31 games (30 starts) at tackle in his first two seasons. Clemmings repped with the second team most of camp.
Will Laquon Treadwell have an increased role? | By Lindsey Young |@LindseyMNSports
A lot of questions surrounded Treadwell coming into his second training camp after he had just one catch for 15 yards as a rookie.
Treadwell had a strong start to camp, telling the media that he was fully healthy and snagging some nice catches during 1-on-1 and team drills. The receiver repped with the first team in three-receiver sets but has been sidelined again, however, since he left practice with an injury on July 31.
Returning starting receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen performed well during their time in Mankato, and Jarius Wright received attention from a handful of notable grabs, including a 65-yard TD pass from Bradford during the Saturday night practice on Aug. 5. Michael Floyd, whom the Vikings signed as a free agent, has also notched some impressive catches. Floyd will be serving a suspension for the first four weeks of the regular-season.
How does offseason with offense help Sam? | By Eric Smith |@EricLSmith
Spending almost a full calendar year with the Vikings has done wonders for the comfort level of Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford. When he arrived in Minneapolis in early September, Bradford essentially took a crash course on quarterbacking a new team. But Bradford has seemingly found a rapport with his wide receivers, most notably Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Bradford and Diggs connected for multiple deep passes in camp, including one for the highlight reel from the Saturday night practice. And Bradford often looked Rudolph's way in team drills, primarily in the red zone. Expect Bradford to be ready to flourish for the Week 1 opener on Monday Night Football.
How is Teddy progressing in rehab? | By Craig Peters |@pcraigers
Teddy Bridgewater lost his third pro season because of a cruel knee injury in a non-contact drill last August. He hasn't lost love from Vikings fans, and a reason for that is the way he is continuing to handle his rehab. Bridgewater hasn't been cleared to practice, but he did speak to media in an official capacity for the first time since the injury.
Bridgewater was frank about the mental challenges of overcoming such a devastating injury and convincing when explaining his resolve.
"It's been one grind. The best thing that I had going for me is that I've had an experience with this kind of fight watching my mom battle breast cancer," Bridgewater said. "I come from amazing DNA, and we're fighters.
"You have your days where you don't see the progress, but it's a long process," Bridgewater added. "It's a rollercoaster that you go on but for me, I've had so much support that I've had more great days than I have bad days."
Bridgewater and Bradford doled out plenty of autographs on multiple days of camp and continue to show why General Manager Rick Spielman thinks the Vikings are fortunate to have both players on the roster.
What is the offensive identity under Pat Shurmur going to be? | By Craig Peters |@pcraigers
Shurmur began 2016 as the Vikings tight ends coach and was elevated to interim offensive coordinator in November after Norv Turner resigned. He's in his third season of working with Bradford (2010 in St. Louis and 2015 in Philadelphia) and has the benefit of more familiarity with the entire Vikings roster.
The Vikings took deep shots in training camp and also involved the running backs on routes and designed screens. McKinnon was one of the most frequent pass-catching running backs across the league after Shurmur took over, and Cook looked smooth when catching passes as well.
Another element is Shurmur's belief — and Bradford's proof — that his on-point accuracy hasn't taken a hit when the Vikings have moved him out of the pocket on play actions, naked bootlegs and run outs to go along with standard drops and shotgun snaps.
Will there be a new starter at defensive end? | By Mike Wobschall |@wobby
It's fair to expect Danielle Hunter will be the starter at left defensive end. But it's short-sighted to think that's the only spot he'll occupy in 2017. The defensive staff experimented with all sorts of looks in Mankato, including putting Hunter at right defensive end in some packages. Ultimately, though, the transition of Hunter from rotational player to starter seems to have been completed. This does not mean a diminished role for Brian Robison, though. He'll still play left defensive end and he can kick inside to play defensive tackle in some sub packages.
Who will be the new base third LB? | By Mike Wobschall |@wobby
It just might be rookie Ben Gedeon. But this race is far from over. Emmanuel Lamur and Edmond Robinson are still candidates and it will probably come down to who looks the best in the team's four preseason games.
Who is the new nickel DB? | By Lindsey Young |@LindseyMNSports
Second-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander seemed to be the likely favorite to play nickel during the 2017 season, and training camp practices confirmed as much.
Alexander received the majority of reps in the slot when the Vikings ran their nickel defense, but it's still possible Terence Newman could see time there, as well. Newman 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.
The Vikings also had safety Antone Exum, who was among the early arrivals, in the slot for the first time.
Will Vikings enable Datone Jones & Will Sutton to flourish? | By Eric Smith |@EricLSmith
To recap, Jones and Sutton joined the Vikings this offseason after spending the previous few seasons with NFC North foes Green Bay and Chicago, respectively. While neither player has worked with the first-team defense, the duo could be a big part of the depth at defensive tackle. Both players flashed the ability to get in the backfield and stop the run while at camp in Mankato and had some impressive moves in 1-on-1 pass rush drills. The preseason will be a big test for Jones and Sutton as they go against offensive lines other than the Vikings, all which trying to move up the pecking order of big men along the defensive line.
What will Newman's role be this season? | By Eric Smith |@EricLSmith
Newman may not have a starting role this season, as Waynes appears to be one of the outside starting cornerbacks and Alexander ran with the first-team defense in camp as the slot cornerback. But having Newman's smarts and ability available to plug him in at any minute is something any NFL team would likely take in a heartbeat. Newman could be a jack-of-all-trades for the Vikings in 2017, as he has the ability to play outside or in nickel formations. He also lined up at safety at times during camp. But Newman's leadership is what could be most valuable, as the 15-year veteran is often seen staying after practice to work with younger cornerbacks on their technique and footwork.
Who will return kickoffs? | By Mike Wobschall |@wobby
We identified Rodney Adams, McKinnon and Marcus Sherels as the main candidates prior to camp. As the preseason is set to launch, there is another name to consider – Isaac Fruechte. He was impressive both as a receiver and as a kickoff returner in camp. Speed is Fruechte's chief asset as it pertains to kickoff returns, and now he'll have to demonstrate a good feel and vision as a returner during preseason games.
Will Forbath hold off Koehn at kicker? | By Eric Smith |@EricLSmith
This one is too close to call at the moment, as the kicking battle between Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn will have to be settled during the preseason. Zimmer recently said that he'll evaluate kickers more once they get into game situations, which means under the bright lights and possibly in pressure-filled situations. Forbath and Koehn were fairly even on field goals during team drills in Mankato. For example, if Forbath made three of his four field goal attempts, Koehn usually made three of four as well. Neither kicker was able to distance himself, but that could change in the preseason.
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said during a media session that the team likely will weigh the value of point-scoring kicks ahead of performance on kickoffs.
The Vikings new punter will be…? | By Craig Peters |@pcraigers
Decided much closer to the season. Not to kick the can down the road, but the Vikings have plenty of time to continue evaluating the performances of Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank as punters and holders.
Punting performance can be quite situational. When backed up against the end zone, a boomer is desired, so long as it doesn't outkick or have too short of a hang time for the coverage. When punting in positive territory, the goal is to pin the opponent deep in its own territory and avoid a touchback.
The Vikings went through multiple scenarios at camp, but there's only so much pressure that can be simulated without the scoreboard on. Quigley has 45 regular-season games with the Jets and six with the Cardinals under his belt. Symmank took part in the Vikings rookie minicamp the past two springs but is still classified as a rookie.
Which rookies might contribute the quickest? | By Lindsey Young |@LindseyMNSports
In our original "Things to Watch For" article, it was opined that Cook and Elflein would likely be the rookies to contribute early on. After watching the rookies throughout camp, the question stands at about the same place.
Cook received more first-team reps than any first-year player over camp. Elflein did receive first-team reps at center but often rotated in and out with Easton. Danny Isidora and Gedeon played primarily with the second team, but both received compliments from Zimmer during sessions with the media. Gedeon did get a handful of opportunities in the first-team base defense where the Vikings looking at different players to fill the weakside linebacker position after Chad Greenway's retirement.
Adams and Stacy Coley both were given reps – along with other players – as returners in special teams practice.
In the previous post, we each tried to predict a "breakout artist" of 2017. This time we will note impressive performances at training camp.
Michael Floyd | By Mike Wobschall |@wobby
Every day, Michael Floyd made three or four plays in training camp that opened your eyes. His physical presence, sure hands and ability to create separation are impressive. Often times, a Vikings defensive back was in perfect position to knock down a pass heading Floyd's way, but the veteran would leave his feet, extend his arms and pluck the ball from the air before the defender could swat it away. Floyd made catches in traffic, deep down the field, in the red zone and along the sideline day after day.
Dalvin Cook | By Lindsey Young |@LindseyMNSports
Prior to training camp kicking off, I predicted that Cook would be one of the team's standouts. Reflecting back over the past two-plus weeks, I believe it's fair to say that Cook's performance fulfilled that prediction. He checked in on July 23 with fellow rookies and select other players and hit the ground running – literally. Cook had said during Organized Team Activity practices that he wanted to focus all his energy on learning Minnesota's offense and performing well on the field, and it seems that he's followed through on that commitment. He appeared to transition smoothly from the early practices to the full-team sessions and had plenty of work with the first-team offense.
While he's yet to be seen in an NFL game, it's hard not to be impressed by Cook's footwork and ability to find the holes – and once he does, he's full steam ahead. Cook didn't have a flashy performance against the Vikings defense in the Saturday night practice, but he received some beneficial goal-line reps in situation drills and didn't shy away from major contact during 11-on-11 work.
Kyle Carter | By Eric Smith |@EricLSmith
Carter might not be a household name to most Vikings fans, but he might be the team's most improved player after spending most of the 2016 season on the practice squad.
The former Penn State tight end joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent last spring but did not make the 53-man roster, instead spending a few months last fall just practicing with the Vikings.
Carter made an impression in camp as he was with the first-team offense in three tight end sets along with Rudolph and David Morgan. But he also flashed his athletic side as a pass catcher, showing reliable hands throughout camp. Carter capped off his strong camp with a reactionary one-handed, diving grab at Tuesday's practice.
The 24-year-old can continue to make a strong impression on coaches and teammates with a strong preseason, as he'll likely get plenty of playing time over the next few exhibition games.
Danielle Hunter | By Craig Peters |@pcraigers
It appears that Hunter inked his name into one of the two starting defensive end spots opposite Everson Griffen, and now the third-year pro is ready to tattoo quarterbacks.
Hunter recorded 6.0 sacks as a rookie and led the team with 12.5 in 2016 in limited action both seasons. He's benefitted from lessons from Griffen and Robison, who has started 65 games in a row. Hunter and Robison have handled the flipping of the depth chart with class, and each enjoys seeing the other help the team succeed. Another aspect of playing defensive end is stuffing the run, and Hunter can use his speed and arm length to help that cause. He's also quick enough to drop into coverage when Zimmer decides to mix things up.
After repeated impressive camp performances, Hunter looks ready to roll. Will opposing right tackles be?