EAGAN, Minn. — Players are less than a week away from reporting for 2023 Vikings Training Camp presented by Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.
The first public practice is scheduled for Saturday, July 29, as part of Back Together Weekend, which is presented by The Salvation Army.
In preparation for the return of football, we started a position-by-position preview:
Now, we'll take a look at inside and outside linebackers.
Returning starter: Jordan Hicks (17 games)
Also on the roster: (listed alphabetically by last name): Brian Asamoah II, Abraham Beauplan, Troy Dye, Wilson Huber, William Kwenkeu, Ivan Pace, Jr., and Troy Reeder
Key departure: Eric Kendricks
2022 recap: Minnesota's inside linebackers were key contributors in creating turnovers last season. In regard to players currently on the roster, Hicks and Asamoah II each forced a fumble, while Dye and Asamoah recovered one apiece. Hicks also nabbed an interception while stringing together his fourth consecutive season of playing in every game. Dye played his third season with Minnesota, and Asamoah and Kwenkeu each started their NFL journeys in purple. The Vikings signed Reeder, who most recently played for the Chargers, in free agency this spring; Beauplan, Huber and Pace were among rookie free agents who joined Minnesota's roster after the draft.
Reunited: Reeder and Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill grew up together in Wilmington, Delaware, where they teamed together at Salesianum High School.
Returning starter: Danielle Hunter (17 games)*
*Hunter is currently on the Vikings roster but did not participate in the team's Organized Team Activities or mandatory minicamp. Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have noted they are continuing discussions with Hunter.
Also on the roster: (listed alphabetically by last name): Andre Carter II, Marcus Davenport, Pat Jones II, Luiji Vilain, Curtis Weaver, Benton Whitley and D.J. Wonnum
Key departure: Za'Darius Smith
New additions: The Vikings signed former Saints edge rusher Davenport in free agency and nabbed Carter as an undrafted rookie.
2022 recap: Last season, Hunter adjusted to a new defense and different responsibilities as the Vikings implemented a 3-4 base for the first time since 1985. He led the team with 10.5 sacks, combining with Smith's 10 to be the first set of Vikings teammates with double-digit sacks since Kevin Williams and Lance Johnstone in 2004. Hunter recorded 22 quarterback hits, tying his personal best from 2019. Wonnum played in 16 games, making one start, and contributed both on defense and special teams. Jones also played 16 games, mainly on special teams. Vilain, whom the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent, played in three games. Minnesota signed Whitley off the Chiefs practice squad, waived him and then signed him to the Vikings practice squad for the remainder of the season. He and Weaver signed reserve/future contracts in January.
View the best photos of Vikings S Josh Metellus from the 2022 season.
3 Key Questions for Vikings (Inside & Outside) Linebackers
1. Who will Minnesota's starting edge rushers be in 2023?
More mystery surrounds the Vikings "Edge Department" this offseason than last.
As noted above, the team's leadership is continuing conversation with Hunter, who returned last season after back-to-back seasons shortened by injuries. Hopefully, Hunter is back with the team. If he is, it's likely that Davenport, who started 32 of 63 games for New Orleans, would start opposite No. 99.
Davenport is new to Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' system and has expressed excitement about the coach's aggressive mindset.
"We've got opportunities [in this defense]," Davenport said this spring. "I'll be looking at the outside linebacker room, like, 'I've got competition.' Just looking at even the young guys … we've got a really good group. I think we're about to put in some great work."
If Hunter is not with the team come Week 1, it will be interesting to see the Vikings approach. It seems natural to assume Davenport would be one starter, but a question mark could remain on the other side. Wonnum had just one start last season but did start 14 games in 2021. Minnesota could also demonstrate belief in one of its young rushers or bring in a new face entirely.
The next several weeks will start answering questions about the Vikings outside linebackers.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Troy Dye from the 2022 season.
2. What type of an impact will Asamoah make in Year 2?
After being drafted 66th overall by Minnesota, Asamoah made a pretty immediate impact in purple.
He demonstrated his speed, athleticism and toughness on special teams, playing 285 snaps (61 percent) for Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels.
Asamoah also got an opportunity to show what he's got defensively. He played just 119 snaps on defense, seeing the bulk of those toward the end of the season, but seemingly impressed coaches in that sample size. Asamoah finished his rookie campaign with 17 tackles (11 solo), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
"Brian Asamoah is a player [the Vikings] are really excited about," NFL analyst Jordan Reid said at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, of the 10 games in which Asamoah took snaps on defense, he received grades of 60-plus in seven of them. He was graded above 70 in five of them, and against the Giants in Week 16 he received a grade of 91.3 – the second-highest on the team behind Hunter's 91.8.
With Kendricks being released this offseason and joining the Chargers, Asamoah was taking first-team reps during the Vikings OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
Flores is known for his creativity and likely will move guys around, but it seems fair to assume Asamoah will play a major part in Minnesota's inside linebacker corps for 2023.
3. How will 'The Flores Effect' show up for linebackers?
The Vikings hired Flores in February, and he's already made clear that his system will be aggressive, fast-paced and full of wrinkles.
How will he use the linebackers, both inside and outside? Will Flores run a blitz-heavy scheme? If so, which positions is he rushing? Though media members saw a sampling during the spring programming, training camp and preseason will tell a lot more.
Flores was asked during his opening press conference what he expected the defense to look like, and he emphasized a system in which the players "are having fun out there."
"Anyone watching can see that there's joy; there's camaraderie; that they're fighting together. But [also] all of the things that you always hear: tough, smart, disciplined. And physical," Flores said. "I'm big on versatility. Guys being able to play multiple spots and, in order to do that, you've gotta get them coached up in those multiple spots.
"We'll try to highlight the things that our players do well and try not to do some of the things that they don't do well," he later added.