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Monday Morning Mailbag: Training Camp Battles

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With training camp fast approaching, what positions and matchups will you be watching the closest? We have depth at many positions, but there must be one or two that you will be focusing on more closely than others. -- Jeff Sanders Kirkwood MO

You're right, there is quality depth all over and there will be several fun position battles to watch unfold. For position battles, I'm most excited to see how things shake out at wide receiver after Stefon Diggs and Jarius Wright. How soon will Laquon Treadwell emerge as a contributor? Among Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen, who will distinguish themselves first? Those will be fun questions to see answered on the field. I'm also excited to see where Trae Waynes is in terms of competing with Terence Newman for a starting spot at cornerback. It's great to have the savvy veteran there to start for as long as needed, but a lot of people are anxious to see Waynes take a big step forward and potentially earn that starting outside spot opposite Xavier Rhodes. As for matchups, I am stoked to watch Everson Griffen and Matt Kalil go at it during training camp. Iron sharpens iron, they say, and I believe the Griffen-Kalil matchup will personify that adage.

Teddy has made improvement on his passing game as he is making more accurate and smarter passes, do you think we can expect a huge improvement on the passing game now that Teddy, the Wide Receiver and Tight End position is getting better? -- Khaliq Muhammad

Yes, it's fair to expect improvement from the passing game in 2016. But a big reason for the expected improvement is an area of the team Khaliq didn't mention in his question – the offensive line. Pass protection issues held back the passing game last year. With the additions of OL coach Tony Sparano and free agent Alex Boone at left guard, the return to health of John Sullivan at center and the competition that has been created along the right side, the offensive line should be an improved group this year and that will set the stage for players in skill positions to become a more explosive group in the passing game.

With training camp and preseason right around the corner, that means the harsh reality of player cuts. How would one evaluate a player who is weak in practice but come game time they play really well? -- Ian Smith Strasburg, VA

Both practices and games are taken into account, and it's what a player does in practice that ultimately determines how much he'll play in the game. Also, coaches love consistency in their players. They want to know that a player can make the routine plays routinely. Performing well in practice is the best way to demonstrate consistency and build trust with the coaches. But what happens in games is what matters the most, so a player who gets the job done in preseason games is going to have a slight edge over another player who practices really well but doesn't get the job done in the preseason games.

What are the keys to success for these rookies during training camp to try to make the team? -- Barry Cole Fredericksburg, VA

The ability to play fast without hesitating because of thinking is traditionally something that can be a barrier for rookies as they try to assimilate into the NFL. That means that the rookies who can study fast and learn the playbook to the point where it's second nature and they can react quickly rather than be encumbered by second guessing themselves will be the ones who have the best shot of making the team. Former head coach Brad Childress always used to say it was important to be great at the things that don't require skill, such as knowing the playbook, hustling, paying attention in meetings and lining up on the field properly. There are also other facts that can play into it, such as special teams and injuries. A rookie who can demonstrate the ability to contribute on special teams phases as well as on his side of the ball has an exponentially better chance of making it than a rookie who cannot help out at all on special teams. And then a rookie who has a veteran at his position become injured may have a better shot to make the team than a rookie who is playing behind one or two healthy veterans. So, the keys are 1) learn the playbook, 2) stay healthy, 3) contribute on special teams and 4) always give great effort.

With defenses possibly focusing on our passing attack this season and our offensive line improving, is AP the clear-cut favorite to lead the League in rushing again? -- Evan Beckford

Yes, Peterson should be considered the favorite to lead the League in rushing one again this season. But it's not because defenses will lose focus on him. I believe opposing defenses will continue to commit to stopping the run when they line up against the Vikings and they will do so at the risk of Bridgewater and Co. putting it all together and gouging them in the passing game. Until the Vikings are able to consistently beat defenses with the pass, defenses will continue to stack up against Peterson. Fortunately for the Vikings, Peterson and the running game are still good enough to get the job done. For the third time in his career, Peterson led the League in rushing last year and he's showing no signs of slowing down.

Do you think the Vikings should hold multiple practices (not just walk-throughs) inside U.S. Bank Stadium after they break camp to get used to the lighting (natural and at night) and field rather than limit themselves to two preseason games? Otherwise, it will be a new stadium to them too when they meet the Packers. -- John McGarry Chicago, IL

No, I don't view that as necessary or even as deriving the Vikings any significant benefit. The playing surface in U.S. Bank Stadium is the same as in the Winter Park field house and while the ETFE roof is unique I don't think it produces such a stark difference in lighting that it will require getting used to. The two preseason games should give the coaches and players plenty of runway to get used to the new place and be ready to roll on September 18 vs. Green Bay.

We are getting closer to what should be a very exciting season. Do you think now that the offense is in its third year under Norv Turner's scheme that the Vikings will start putting in some trick plays? With the speed of Diggs and CP, the old hook and ladder comes to mind. -- Papa Purple

Trick plays are in every offensive scheme, regardless of how many years into that scheme a team is. Running trick plays is not a function of familiarity with a scheme. In fact, trick plays have nothing to do with the familiarity of a scheme because trick plays don't really fit into any specific schemes. The hook and ladder, for example, can be run by any scheme. Running trick plays is about having the personnel in place to execute, being in the right spot on the field and in the right down/distance scenario, and about being willing to accept the risk of a failed trick play to try and attain the benefit of executing the trick play correctly. There will be many trick plays installed and even in game plans throughout the season, but whether they are actually called and executed in a game is hard to predict.

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