In the absence of preseason games, Verizon Vikings Training Camp is where the team will answer multiple questions in preparing for the franchise's 60th season.
The team opened camp with full-team practices one week ago, beginning with non-padded sessions on Aug. 14 and 16. Pads were donned for the first time on Monday for three consecutive days before Thursday's non-padded session. Another in full-gear is scheduled for today.
When players have their day off Saturday, coaches will convene on what they've seen so far.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
Here are 10 questions facing the offense and 10 more facing the defense/special teams at camp.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Jake Browning (0), Kirk Cousins (93/88), Sean Mannion (13/2) and Nate Stanley (0)
Who will be No. 2?
Cousins is entering his third season in Minnesota with as many offensive coordinators and looking to build momentum after his most efficient season in the NFL (career-best 107.4 passer rating), but what happens after Cousins? The Vikings could keep Mannion in the backup slot, appreciating his experience in the NFL as a support for Cousins. Browning, who spent 2019 on the practice squad as a rookie, and Stanley, a seventh-round selection, will make their best pushes for the gig.
Will the Vikings keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster?
When teams reduce rosters to 53, it's always a tough choice on whether to keep two or three. The QB position is so important, and teams wouldn't want an investment who is cut to get poached from their practice squads. Most would rather allot the precious roster spot to a player more likely to play each week.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Ameer Abdullah (58/22), Mike Boone (24/2), Dalvin Cook (29/28) and Alexander Mattison (13/0); FB C.J. Ham (47/10) and FB Jake Bargas (0)
What will the encore look like?
The Vikings boosted their rushing yardage from 1,493 in 2018 to 2,133 a season ago. Cook rushed 250 times (43 more attempts than his first two seasons combined) for 1,135 yards and 13 of his 17 career rushing touchdowns last season. He also caught a career-best 53 passes for 519 yards. Mattison toted the rock 100 times for 462 yards and a score and added 10 catches for 82 yards in his rookie campaign. Can they build on those strong efforts?
How much will Minnesota use a fullback?
Ham's story is one of perseverance, determination and making the most of opportunity. Since joining Minnesota in 2016, the Duluth native not only converted from running back to fullback, but he appeared in his first Pro Bowl last January. Ham started a career-high seven games and lined up on 354 offensive snaps (35 percent), a major uptick from two starts and 139 snaps in 2018.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Chad Beebe (6/0), Dan Chisena (0), Quartney Davis (0), Alexander Hollins (4/1), Justin Jefferson (0), Bisi Johnson (16/6), Dillon Mitchell (0), K.J. Osborn (0), Tajaé Sharpe (47/29) and Adam Thielen (90/56)
How fast can Sharpe and Jefferson impact the team?
Thielen started 2019 at a torrid pace before a hamstring hampered the second part of the season. The Vikings added to the group via free agency and the draft. Sharpe earned a first down on 75 percent (69 of 92) of his receptions in Tennessee. Will his prior experience in offenses used by the Titans help him make an immediate impact? Jefferson has been said to be "pro ready" because LSU's pro-style offense in 2019 was so prolific.
Will receivers be able to separate for final roster spots?
It's probably a little more open after the aforementioned four. A healthy Beebe has impressed coaches in his first couple of seasons that have been halted by injuries. Special teams are likely to play a part in the final roster spots at the position.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Tyler Conklin (31/4), Brandon Dillon (1/0), Nakia Griffin-Stewart (0), Kyle Rudolph (128/120) and Irv Smith, Jr. (16/7)
Is there a Year 2 jump for Smith?
Rudolph is heading into his 10th season and leading a young group. Each offseason, there are players who are seemingly ready to take the next jump in their NFL careers. Smith hauled in 36 catches (a record for a Vikings rookie TE) for 311 yards and two scores, and he seemed to get better as the season went along. Kubiak said he saw plenty of flashes from Smith last season and is ready to tap into more of that talent in 2020.
Will the Vikings incorporate 2- or 3-tight ends often?
It wouldn't be surprising. Back in December when Vikings fans painted Los Angeles Purple, Minnesota's opening drive against the Chargers ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Smith. The Vikings used 23 (two running backs and three tight ends) personnel for the scoring play, as well as two other snaps. Minnesota also used 12 (running back and two tight ends) five times during the crisp, 75-yard drive.
View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Garrett Bradbury (16/16), Blake Brandel (0), Ezra Cleveland (0), Aviante Collins (5/1), Dakota Dozier (54/11), Pat Elflein (43/42), Rashod Hill (43/16), Kyle Hinton (0), Brett Jones (46/17), Jake Lacina (0), Brian O'Neill (30/26), Riley Reiff (120/112), Dru Samia (2/0) and Olisaemeka Udoh (1/0)
Who will join the starters?
Kubiak said at the onset of camp that it was good to have four returning starters — LT Reiff, LG Elflein, C Bradbury and RT O'Neill — from 2019 (Elflein has moved to RG). Dozier and Collins have taken some reps with the first team at LG, and Cleveland has worked with the second team at the spot despite playing left tackle at Boise State.
How far ahead will the 2019 returning reserves be of the newcomers?
Dozier has the most time under Vikings Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison on the team because they overlapped with the Jets in 2018. Hill and Jones have contributed in games. Collins has shown potential but been bitten by injuries. Samia and Udoh both essentially redshirted in 2019, with each getting extensive playing time in Week 17. All of the above know the offensive scheme, and that could give them a leg up ahead of fresh faces on the roster. Every on-field rep will be of utmost importance for the evaluation of these players.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Jalyn Holmes (11/0), Danielle Hunter (78/49), Jaleel Johnson (37/4), Stacy Keely (0), James Lynch (0), Hercules Mata'afa (6/0), David Moa (0), Ifeadi Odenigbo (17/0), Shamar Stephen (82/49), Armon Watts (7/1), Kenny Willekes (0), D.J. Wonnum (0), Eddie Yarbrough (31/6) and Anthony Zettel (49/16)
Opposite Hunter, do the Vikings go with Odenigbo and rotate?
The defensive end spot opposite Hunter is a little up-in-the-air after the departures of Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly in free agency, but Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson is confident in the position and specifically noted excitement about Odenigbo's continued development. Holmes has moved from DT to DE and filled in for Hunter for most of camp so far.
How will the Vikings plug the D-line interior?
Stephen and Watts are taking on the nose tackle, and Johnson is settling in at the 3-technique. Mata'afa, who signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2018 but spent the campaign on IR with a torn ACL, and Lynch are intriguing because of their potential as interior pass rushers.
View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Anthony Barr (85/85), Troy Dye (0), Jordan Fehr (0), Ben Gedeon (39/22), Eric Kendricks (74/70), Blake Lynch (0), Hardy Nickerson (37/9) and Eric Wilson (48/10); Note: Gedeon is on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
What will new Senior Defensive Assistant Dom Capers add to the way this group is deployed?
Head Coach Mike Zimmer's Double-A Gap blitz has benefited from Kendricks and Barr for multiple seasons, but the look's success led to copycats around the league, which led to more reps against the challenge for offensive lines. Capers could help influence the variation of blitzes by linebackers or help refine the art of the blitz by Vikings players.
*Will Gedeon or Wilson return to the third starting spot, or will a newcomer rise the ranks? *
Gedeon dealt with multiple injuries in 2019, but Wilson was always ready when his number was called. There is intrigue in seeing how fast newcomers can pick up the scheme.
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Kris Boyd (16/0), Nevelle Clarke (0), Cameron Dantzler (0), Mark Fields II (1/0), Jeff Gladney (0), Harrison Hand (0), Holton Hill (24/4), Mike Hughes (20/5) and Nate Meadors (2/0)
When will the Vikings first encounter growing pains at the position?
The Vikings will face prolific and veteran quarterbacks often in 2020, beginning with Aaron Rodgers on Sept. 13. If the Week 1 lineup includes Hughes, Hill and Gladney or Dantzler as the starters, that means Rodgers will face a trio of corners who have never started against him.
The Vikings cornerbacks might endure some growing pains early on in 2020, but they also have the potential to flourish by the time the December rolls around with road games against Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford scheduled in three of the final four weeks of the season.
How will Minnesota handle its nickel package?
Hughes has previous experience on the outside and inside. He's shown he's not afraid to help in run support, either. Will the Vikings ask him to be a hybrid, or have him focus on one or the other as they develop the group?
On the roster (NFL games/starts): Brian Cole II (0), Myles Dorn (0), Anthony Harris (65/31), Josh Metellus (0), Steven Parker (14/4) and Harrison Smith (114/113)
Will having zero in-game experience behind Smith and Harris bite the Vikings?
Harris and Smith are a reliable pair, to be sure, but there's quite the drop-off in experience behind them. If either player is sidelined, Minnesota's options at backup are a trio of rookies and Parker, who recently joined the team. If anyone can develop young defensive back quickly, it's Zimmer.
On the roster (NFL games): K Dan Bailey (138), P Britton Colquitt (160) and LS Austin Cutting (16)
Who will win the punt returner job?
The Vikings are trying to replace mainstay Marcus Sherels and could turn to Osborn who averaged 15.9 yards per return as a senior at Miami. That question will have to be answered without the benefit of preseason games.
Who is gunning for the gunner position?
Boyd really came on strong as a rookie and led Minnesota in special teams tackles. Former safety Jayron Kearse also excelled in the role, but his departure creates a job opportunity.
HEAD COACH MIKE ZIMMER
Coaching history: Seventh season in Minnesota; 57-38-1 record; 2-3 playoff record
How will Zimmer handle the defensive turnover amidst an unusual offseason?
By not lowering expectations might be the best answer.
View photos of the Vikings 2020 coaching staff.
Zimmer has a sturdy reputation as a defensive mastermind since landing in the NFL in 1994. That included six years of continuity with the Vikings, when nine starters were with Zimmer for at least five consecutive seasons.
He's also rolled with unexpected punches. While roster turnover eventually is inevitable, bringing in new faces, Zimmer will take it upon himself to ensure the Vikings defense stays at the elite level that has defined recent years.