Monday Morning Mailbag: Assessing Camp's Position Battles

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With the pads on, what position battles are you most excited for beside running back, outside linebacker and the defensive and offensive line? -- Blake Dufner Richmond, MN

There are some good ones within those position groups, but others I’m looking forward to watching for the rest of camp and the preseason include kickoff returner, nickel cornerback and wide receiver. At kickoff returner, the Vikings have several different ways they can go. Jerick McKinnon is still a solid option, in my view, but I’m intrigued by the prospects of Isaac Fruechte, too. At receiver, Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley are having a great battle, Fruechte is vying for a spot and Jarius Wright continues to be solid and deserving of a spot. At nickel cornerback, it appears Mackensie Alexander is on his way to earning a starting role and it’s been interesting to watch Antone Exum work in that spot. We aren’t even halfway through August, so there is a lot of time yet to go.

Why are we locking up older players and not locking up younger players like Danielle Hunter or Eric Kendricks? -- Chris Kulak

Whoa, Chris! You’re making me feel old. The three players who’ve most recently been extended – Everson Griffen (29), Linval Joseph (28) and Xavier Rhodes (27) – have an average age of 28 years old. They are all right in the prime of their careers. These are the best types of signings because they keep the core intact and because you know these players fit your scheme and team dynamic. Hunter and Kendricks are both great candidates to re-sign eventually, but players aren’t allowed to re-sign with their team until after their third season; 2017 is the third season for both of those players.

Should we be worried about Riley Reiff missing a long time or even being lost for the year? Any hint you can give would be appreciated. -- Louie Greco

Any time a player is injured, there’s concern. Everyone heals differently and you don’t want to take anything for granted when it comes to health. So from that standpoint, there’s reason to worry, especially because Reiff plays such an important position for the team. On the other hand, there’s reason to be optimistic Reiff will be back and you wouldn’t blame the team for being extra cautions at this time of year with any kind of injury, especially to a veteran offensive lineman with a history of being durable. 

I'm a Vikings fan born and raised, but I just moved to Green Bay for work and my family! You and the staff do a great job of keeping me in the loop on the team in the heart of enemy territory! I LOVE It! How is CJ Ham transitioning to fullback? How's he looking in camp? -- Jeff Tiede Green Bay, WI

First of all, thanks for fighting the good fight in the heart of enemy territory! Secondly, Ham appears to be transitioning well at fullback. He’s a focused person and player, and I am not surprised he’s been able to get this far in his position change. A big factor for Ham’s prospects of making the roster will be his ability to contribute on special teams and his ability to consistently demonstrate improvement in everything he does. His position coach is Kennedy Polamalu, who is new to the team in 2017. I’ve seen coach Polamalu be tough on Ham during training camp practices, and I see that as a good thing because it tells me Polamalu has high expectations for the player.

Shamar Stephen is entering his fourth year with the team, however, you hardly ever hear anything about him in the media or during games. How does he stack up with other DTs and is he healthy? -- Rey Johnson Montrose, MN

Stephen is a valuable lineman for the Vikings because of his versatility; and yes, he’s healthy right now. Last year, he stepped in to be the starting three technique when Sharrif Floyd went down. Now, he appears set to be the backup to Joseph at nose tackle. He’s still a young player and his body is still maturing. Knowing Stephen can play either defensive tackle spot is an advantage for the Vikings coaching staff when it comes to roster cuts because they know they might be able to keep an extra player at a different position thanks to the position flexibility they have with Stephen.

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