Tuesday marks the full-team report day for Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.
The Vikings first practice session open to media members will be Wednesday afternoon. Ahead of camp getting underway, The Athletic's Alec Lewis spotlighted seven position battles to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.
Lewis said the top battle to watch is at cornerback, with competition among Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, Joejuan Williams and Andrew Booth, Jr., for the spot opposite free agent addition Byron Murphy, Jr. Lewis wrote:
If [Defensive Coordinator Brian] Flores is going to play as much man coverage as he has during his career, the Vikings need cornerbacks who can hold up against a bevy of elite wide receivers. Minnesota will face Mike Evans, A.J. Brown [and] Mike Williams [in Weeks 1-3]. Selecting the right secondary options will be critical.
Evans, Booth, Blackmon and Williams are in the same boat. They're young and inexperienced, but they have qualities that give them a chance. Evans and Williams are the largest in the group, so they make the most sense as outside cornerbacks who will have to use their length. Conversely, Booth and Blackmon have a level of fluidity that is needed against elite pass catchers in the slot, which might be more in vogue than ever before. Evans (concussions) and Booth (meniscus surgery) suffered season-ending injuries last year that limited their playing time.
That brings us to the uncertainty surrounding this competition. Vikings [Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell said in February that he was looking forward to watching it unfold. So, let the games begin.
View photos of the first-wave of players arriving for 2023 Vikings Training Camp at the TCO Performance Center.
Lewis' early prediction is that Evans takes the outside corner spot opposite Murphy and Blackmon stands out at the nickel.
Behind cornerback, Lewis said the No. 2 edge rusher spot could get competitive depending on what happens with Danielle Hunter. He also told fans to keep a close eye at safety.
Harrison Smith, who came in No. 97 in the NFL Top 100, will of course man one of the safety positions. But Lewis opined that Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine and Josh Metellus all could vie for the other starting spot.
Lewis said there's "not a position group on the defense that has more talent and upside than safety."
Bynum played more defensive snaps than any Vikings player last season. And while he might not have as much burst as Cine or Metellus, he was reliable. Coverage busts against the Eagles and Lions in 2022 were mostly a byproduct of misplays by former Vikings cornerback Cam Dantzler, Sr. Bynum, on the other hand, mostly kept passes in front of him, which was the task.
Cine and Metellus are the more rangy options in this group, and both have skill sets Flores will utilize. Although Cine was seemingly 100 percent this spring, the Vikings will likely monitor his workload. Metellus, meanwhile, who became a team captain at the end of the 2022 season, is destined to play a defensive role no matter how creative Flores has to get to make that happen.
Click here to read Lewis' insight on all seven position battles, including backup running back, punt returner and the No. 4 receiver.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Sept. 26, 2023.
NFL.com identifies 'biggest challenge' for each team
While Lewis delved into defensive position battles, NFL.com's Eric Edholm looked at the same situation with a slightly different tone, saying the Vikings biggest challenge is "identifying playmakers on defense."
Edholm weighed in Monday on a challenge for each of the 32 teams, and he wrote the following about Minnesota:
The Vikings won 13 games last season despite allowing the third-most points in the league and failing to generate enough splash plays. That led to the team bringing in Brian Flores to run this unit, and his past coaching success suggests he'll improve this group, one way or another. But how quickly will the improvement come? There are questions at all three levels after the Vikings let some talent walk and only spent limited resources upgrading the defense. There are some fixtures such as safety Harrison Smith, and new cornerback Byron Murphy figures to start. Still, questions remain up and down the defensive depth chart. Flores has plenty to figure out Year 1 and could do a lot of experimenting until he finds the right mix.
Edholm critiqued defense for three of the four NFC North teams. The Bears need to create more pressure defensively, he said, and the Lions biggest challenge is developing chemistry in the secondary.
And this was a challenge before do-it-all DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson was carted off the practice field on Monday with a non-contact knee injury. Detroit's pass defense hasn't been up to snuff the past two seasons, as the Lions have been competitive but have found themselves in too many shootouts. This offseason, the team committed significant resources to the secondary, adding CBs Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley and Gardner-Johnson in free agency, before pouncing on versatile DB Brian Branch in Round 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft. Along with holdover safeties Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph, the Lions have the makings of a much-improved group in the back end. A significant injury to the uniquely talented CJGJ would be a real blow, though NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported that there is optimism following the initial scare. Regardless, [Defensive Coordinator] Aaron Glenn must find the best ways to utilize everyone.
As for the other division rival?
Edholm would like to see Green Bay get its rookie tight ends up to speed quickly ahead of the 2023 season.