The first week of U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp is upon us, and The Athletic's Chad Graff looked ahead and rolled out 7 "bold (and not so bold) predictions" for Minnesota over the next few weeks.
Graff first predicted that recent free agent signee Dede Westbrook will win the punt return competition over Chad Beebe and K.J. Osborn, who both took reps there in 2020, as well as rookies Kene Nwangwu and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Graff wrote:
I think it's Westbrook who is going to win the job. There are plenty of reasons to think it won't work. He's only 10 months removed from an ACL tear … Westbrook brings a veteran presence that [Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer appreciates in the role and can be someone the coaching staff trusts.
The big question is whether he's fully recovered from the injury and possesses the speed and quick movements he had before it. His workout earlier this week was impressive, Zimmer said, which leads me to believe that he'll be just fine. If he is truly healthy, I think Westbrook emerges from a crowded field to win the punt return competition.
Graff also predicted that rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who didn't practice on Wednesday, won't be starting Week 1, and that 2021 draft pick Kellen Mond will earn the backup quarterback spot behind Kirk Cousins.
Graff next projected Sheldon Richardson to be one of the Week 1 starters at defensive tackle.
This is partly reflective of how good I think Richardson is and partly because I think he'll take advantage of the opportunity ahead of him. Michael Pierce is [a] projected starter, but Pierce is expected to miss the start of training camp because of injury.
Pierce hasn't played football in more than a year after opting out last season and hasn't had the chance to work with Zimmer the way Richardson has. If Richardson comes in and plays well from the start of training camp and has a strong preseason, I think he could beat out Pierce.
The Irv Smith "breakout will finally happen," opined Graff, and he also believes that Bashaud Breeland will start the season as a backup corner behind Cameron Dantzler.
And as far as Mr. Mankato, the designation for an underdog who rises during training camp? Graff is betting on Blake Proehl.
I love that the bit that started from the former radio station 1500 ESPN continues even if the team hasn't gone to Mankato [for training camp since 2017]. The goal essentially is to identify the rookie that wasn't a Day 1 or 2 draft pick that breaks out most in camp and sets themselves up for a roster spot. Some second-year players are eligible.
But I'm taking Proehl, the undrafted free agent the Vikings valued most, the receiver they rewarded with six figures in guaranteed money. Proehl claims that he's modeled his game after Adam Thielen and he's looking for a similar success story. The Vikings badly need wide receivers to step up behind Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and Proehl is a top contender.
View photos of Vikings players from 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp practice at the TCO Performance Center.
ESPN's 'biggest question' for Vikings revolves around Cousins' future
The Vikings currently have four quarterbacks on their training camp roster: Cousins, Nate Stanley, Jake Browning and Mond, whom Minnesota drafted this spring.
The Vikings clearly liked Mond's production at Texas A&M, but how soon are they looking to count on the slinging QB?
ESPN's Courtney Cronin tackled this question in a recent article that asked beat reporters to tab the “biggest question” facing their respective team. Cronin wrote:
Cousins is not at risk of losing his starting status this season after the Vikings drafted Mond 66thoverall. Mond, a four-year Texas A&M starter, has a long way to go before Minnesota could think about making a change at quarterback, which is why he ended up in the perfect spot, given the time he'll have to develop. Nonetheless, the Vikings have the building blocks of a contingency plan should Cousins, 32, underperform in 2021.
Because of that, Cronin added, this season could be a "make-or-break" one for Cousins, who has two years remaining on an extension he signed last March.
And let's look across the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, shall we, at the Green Bay Packers entering 2021. According to ESPN's Rob Demovsky, now that Aaron Rodgers seems set for one more season in Green Bay, "how successful would a 'Last Dance' season be?"
How the answer to this question plays out certainly will impact Vikings fans, and Demovsky said it all depends on Rodgers' relationships with Packers leadership and players alike, and how well he's received after sitting out the duration of the offseason.
At best, it's an awkward situation. At worst, it creates an uneasiness throughout the team. If all of that can be blocked out, then there's no reason to think the Packers can't make one more run at it with Rodgers.