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Monday Morning Mailbag: Training Camp Has Arrived

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What defensive rookie do you think will have the biggest impact this upcoming regular season? Marcus Epps, Kris Boyd, Cameron Smith and Armon Watts all seemed to impress during the offseason, but I'm unsure how many chances they will get to play given how stacked and deep our defense already is!
-- Dan Paulos
Long Island, NY

Dan is correct that the defense is stacked. Essentially, the only starter who isn’t back is Sheldon Richardson, and he’s been replaced by a starting-caliber player in Shamar Stephen. So it will indeed be difficult for a rookie to significantly contribute as long as the starters remain healthy. The place to look, though, is at cornerback. While the Vikings are in good shape with their top three of Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, the presumptive fourth and fifth cornerbacks are Mike Hughes and Holton Hill, respectively, and it’s possible Hughes will still be rehabbing early in the season while we already know Hill will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension. From that standpoint, you have to look at both Boyd and Epps as rookies who have a shot to play on defense. I would also note that Cameron Smith should enter this conversation because he could challenge for playing time at linebacker and it’s likely he’ll be a core special teams player during his rookie season.

Who do you believe is making some noise entering training camp to compete for the WR3 position? Chad Beebe has to be the early favorite to take this position. But you have to consider Laquon Treadwell and Brandon Zylstra, among others. I love the fact that we have depth at the position. Thoughts?
-- Tyler Bean
Geneseo, IL

It’s reasonable to point to Beebe as the favorite to win the WR3 spot this summer, but Tyler is right that others will challenge Beebe for playing time. Health is a big factor for Beebe because he dealt with injuries last season plus he’ll be playing on special teams as well as on offense. The Vikings selected two rookie receivers – Bisi Johnson and Dillon Mitchell – who flashed a bit in the spring, but I’m sure they still have a lot to learn in the way of being a professional receiver. Suffice it to say, Beebe enters camp in Position A here.

The Vikings reaching the playoffs in 2019 may well hinge on winning some tough road games. What will be the keys to success in that regard? They say that the running game and defense travel well.
-- Leo Sans
Newington, CT

Yes, the running game and playing defense definitely help you win road games. A good running game can do a lot to take the home crowd out of the game. One thing head coach Mike Zimmer talks a lot about when it comes to road games is handling the environment, from the travel routing/challenges to eliminating mental errors to communicating well. Checking those boxes can put you on track to find success on the road. At the end of the day, though, whether you’re on the road or playing at home, you need to execute in crucial situations, such as 3rd downs and the red zone, so don’t lose sight of those areas as you watch the Vikings practice in training camp and play in preseason games this summer.

What are we doing at the OLB position alongside Anthony Barr? Is Ben Gedeon more than likely going to get the start there and how is he looking as far as his development going into Year 3? Also, how confident are we in Anthony Harris and his ability to take over the other safety spot? I know he has been on the team for a while but I haven't seen much improvement.
-- Jaycee McKinney
Atlanta, GA

I strongly disagree with the contention that Harris hasn’t shown improvement during his career. He’s improved every season and was a nine-game starter at safety last season. I have no qualms whatsoever about Harris being a starter next to Harrison Smith. In fact, I think it’s one of the better tandems you can find. Andrew Sendejo was a smart player and was a tone-setter for the defense. But Harris has his strengths, too. As for the third linebacker spot, I would frame it for Gedeon the same way we framed it for Beebe a little earlier; Gedeon enters camp as the favorite to be the guy. Both coach Zimmer and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer have been pleased with Gedeon’s development, particularly with his ability to consistently be in the right spot before and after the snap. As I stated above, Smith, a linebacker who was selected in the fifth round this spring and who trained both inside and outside at USC, flashed in the offseason program and could challenge for playing time on defense at some point as a rookie.

Has leaving Mankato for training camp led to less team bonding? The tradition, the roommate-dorm living. How has training camp improved by leaving Mankato? I always enjoyed watching move-in day.
-- Steve Wodke
Woodbury, MN

I will advocate for Mankato as strongly as anyone. I grew up in the area and spent more than a decade attending training camps as a member of the organization. With that being said, I wouldn’t say that team bonding and team camaraderie has taken a hit with the move to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. The players still spend most of their days together in meeting rooms, the locker room and on the field. Plus, the new facility is state-of-the-art and affords the entire football operation every advantage and amenity. There’s no question the team’s new practice facility, including the decision to have training camp there, has been a positive development. That is no disrespect to the folks at Minnesota State University-Mankato or any part of the Mankato community. They were great hosts for many years and will always be a part of Vikings history and of the Vikings family.

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