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Monday Morning Mailbag: Waynes' Progress, D-Line Rotation, Hughes vs. Sherels at Punt Returner

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Every time someone mentions future contract extensions, the focus is always on Anthony Barr and Stefon Diggs. But many forget about Trae Waynes, who I think is a very important piece as the cornerback opposite Xavier Rhodes. Waynes is tested often because teams avoid Xavier. How do you think he has performed thus far? Do you expect him to take another leap forward? And why do you think he is constantly overlooked? I hope we are able to keep him! #Skol
-- Kren
Kenosha, WI

Hey there, Kenosha, Wisconsin! That is the home town of Mr. Waynes. Great to have a Kenoshan on keeping up with Trae and the rest of the Vikings. Waynes has progressed each season under head coach Mike Zimmer but I think his progress in 2017 was a major step forward. It's true that he is tested more than usual because teams elect to stay away from Rhodes, and last year Waynes responded well to those challenges. The Rhodes-Waynes combination is very solid and I would venture to guess most teams aren't as pleased with their 1-2 punch at CB as the Vikings are with Rhodes and Waynes. As to why he isn't mentioned as often as Barr and Diggs when it comes to contract extensions, that's probably because Waynes is under contract for this season and next season, whereas Barr and Diggs are only under contract for this season.

Glad to know the offensive line isn't one of your concerns. You see them more up close than us. That's encouraging to hear. I'm sure you're sick of hearing that concern from fans over and over again. I have high hopes for this group of players. Can't wait for the preseason games!
-- Chris Vaichus

It's not that I don't feel there are questions about that group. Clearly, it's been an area of focus from a personnel standpoint the past two offseasons, so that tells us there have been questions about the position group in the recent past. It's just that I am optimistic about some of the potential answers to those questions. I believe Brian O'Neill has a shot to contribute sooner rather than later, I'm excited to see what Tom Compton can bring to the group, I feel like Danny Isidora stands a chance to contribute and I love that we are bringing back five guys who all had at least seven starts a season ago.

You always seem to be very positive about the Viking's 2018 season (rightfully so, SKOL!). But what do you see as the biggest area for improvement?
-- Chris Vaichus
Wolcott, CT

I don't think there's any area of the team where coach Zimmer won't demand improvement. He understands and preaches to the team that 2018 is a new season and that nothing that happened in 2017 is going to help the 2018 version of the Vikings. With that being said, generating more explosive returns, creating more turnovers on defense and continuing to focus on red zone touchdown percentage on offense are just a few areas you'll hear coach Zimmer reference as areas of focus.

I was wondering if you see the Vikings doing more rotating in and out with the defensive linemen to keep them fresher for later in the games and also for the postseason. On a related question, do you see any of the defensive linemen playing more than one position other than Brian Robison? Perhaps the Vikings will do some experimenting during the preseason with that.
Bruce Johnson
Eagan, MN

You want to have your best players out on the field together as often as possible, but you especially want them out there together late in the game if the game is close. Bruce is correct that having a deep and robust rotation along the defensive line is a good way to keep your best players fresh for the clutch parts of the game and season, so I do anticipate the Vikings developing young players to be able to come in and give the veteran starters a breather every now and then. In terms of linemen playing multiple positions, I can see Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter switching sides periodically. It also wouldn't surprise me to see guys such as Jalyn Holmes and Stephen Weatherly train in multiple spots.

Who do you think will be the third half-back behind Murray and Cook?
-- Chip Perkins-Beroid

Hard to say right now, but I will remind fans not to forget about CJ Ham for this role. He's a converted running back who is now playing fullback, but he does have the capability to run the ball as well as run block, pass block and catch the ball. Ham is also very good on special teams, so he fulfills a lot of roles on the team from the fullback/running back position. After that, there is a good competition brewing among Mike Boone, Mack Brown and Roc Thomas. An ability to help on special teams is going to be key in this position battle.

Marcus Sherels has been a feel-good story in Minnesota from Day 1. Does his run as a punt returner come to an end with the drafting of Mike Hughes?
-- Ron Mitchell
Mound Valley, KS

No, I would not say the selection of Hughes automatically marked the end of the road for Sherels. Saying so is disrespecting what Sherels has done here in Minnesota. He's the all-time leader in punt return yards and he's also a very good contributor in other phases of special teams. He's been able to do all of that despite his roster spot being challenged every season of his career. Hughes could push Sherels out, Sherels could hold on and win the return job or there could be room for both on the roster. It's just too soon to know for sure and it's never a good idea to count Sherels out.