View images from practice No. 8 of 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp which took place on Saturday, August 2.
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What do you expect to see in the preseason games? How much will the team show and what will be kept under the hat until the first game of the regular season? -- Charles D. Bluffton, SC
Teams have a tricky balance to strike in the preseason when it comes to using exhibition games to practice their scheme and iron out the kinks while also not giving regular season opponents a sneak peek at what to expect. With how many position battles the Vikings have to solve, my sense is it will be pretty bland in all three phases of the game during the preseason. Keeping it simple and bland will accomplish two primary objectives: first, it will not give away any secrets before the regular season begins; secondly, it will allow players to just play fast and not be encumbered by worrying about scheme, which will in turn allow coaches and scouts to see each player when he's at his best and, thus, make a better evaluation of each player for when it's time to make final cuts.
Will Blair Walsh return to his rookie form this season? I think he has the best leg in the League…such a valuable asset. -- Andrew S. Jacksonville, FL
I wouldn't say that Walsh regressed from his rookie form in 2014. I understand the numbers weren't quite as good, but they didn't drop off significantly, either. He missed just three field goals in 38 attempts in 2012, but in 2013 he missed just one more in 30 attempts. As for kickoffs, he had a franchise record 53 touchbacks in 2012, and while he had nine fewer touchbacks on the same number of kickoffs in 2014 it's important to note he had only a 2% drop in kickoffs that reached the end zone, suggesting the Vikings may have intentionally allowed kickoffs to be returned with the goal of pinning teams inside their own 20.
Regardless, yes, I do think Walsh will have a great season in 2014, more like the 2012 season he had, and I agree with Andrew that he has the best leg in the League, particularly when it comes to 50-yard FGs (he made 12 consecutive to begin his career) and touchbacks on kickoffs.
Lastly, Walsh was impressive in Saturday night's practice, as he was eight-for-eight on field goal tries, hitting on attempts of 37, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 50 and 53 yards.
Are starting position battles a good thing? Or is it better to have someone so good that he's the unquestionable starter? -- Paul S.
In an ideal world, you'd have 11 players in every phase and in every personnel grouping who were the unquestioned starter. But in today's NFL with limited roster spots, a plethora of different schemes and strategies, and a salary cap, that's just not a probable scenario. At some point, teams have to stock a position with as much talent as possible and let a good, old-fashioned training camp/preseason battle determine the starter.
I've heard a lot about what will happen at the middle (MIKE) linebacker position. Who do you think should start at that position? I want to see Audie Cole start. I think he did very well last year when he played. I've also heard that Brandon Watts has gotten a few reps with the first team defense. -- Cody E. Naples, FL
From my standpoint, no one is jumping out and making it an obvious choice at the starting MIKE linebacker position in the base defense. I feel Greenway is the best option at MIKE in the nickel, but in base the Vikings are still holding a competition for job. Jasper Brinkley has been solid, Michael Mauti is right on his heels, and both Audie Cole and Brandon Watts have a chance, as well. This is an important position battle for the Vikings to solve because it will impact how the defense performs on 1st down, which is primarily a base defense down. The better the defense plays on 1st down, the better the chance is that they will be able to get after the quarterback on the later downs.
Do you see the fullbacks and tight ends as competing against each other for roster spots? I hope they can keep Zach Line and both Rhett Ellison and AC Leonard. -- Robert L. Irvine, CA
I do see these two position groups frequently competing against one another for roster spots. The Vikings have several players in those two position groups who are worthy of a NFL roster spot, including Ellison, Chase Ford, Leonard, Allen Reisner and Kyle Rudolph at tight end plus both Jerome Felton and Line at fullback. But there likely is not room for all of them on the final 53-man roster. This is a great example of what coaches and general managers mean when they say that every year they have to make hard decisions and ultimately are forced to let quality players go at roster reduction time. The Vikings will likely have to do just that when it comes to their fullback, running back and tight end positions.