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Monday Morning Mailbag: Prime Position Battles as Vikings Training Camp Opens

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What role do you see for Cameron Dantzler, given that Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland appear to be starters at the corners, with Mackensie Alexander filling in at nickel. If Dantzler beats out Breeland for a starting spot, will Breeland be happy with a diminished role?

— David Friedman in Jerusalem, Israel

David starts us off with a question from afar, and it's a great one as training camp kicks off this week.

I've thought about this a few times this summer, but the difference in experience at cornerback is striking from a year ago at this time.

In 2020, the Vikings entered camp with a cornerbacks group that had nine combined starts between Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. Jeff Gladney and Dantzler, obviously, were rookies and had no starts.

In 2021, that position group has 273 total starts between Peterson (154), Breeland (88), Alexander (20) and Dantzler (11).

That's a long way of saying the Vikings have a wealth of experience and depth, something that wasn't the case a year ago.

So how will it all play out? Like David, I'll also declare Peterson as a starter outside and put Alexander as the nickel cornerback.

But I think the other outside cornerback spot will be a fun camp battle between Breeland and Dantzler. Neither did much on the field this spring due to injuries.

If Dantzler earns the job, that means you have a veteran, Super-Bowl winning corner who can fill in as needed behind him. And if Breeland wins the gig, you have one of the league's top second-year cornerbacks still able to learn and contribute as the No. 4 guy.

There's even a possibility that the two split reps this season in a de-facto rotation.

Whatever happens, the Vikings secondary will certainly be better for it.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is fond of saying that you can never have enough cornerbacks. Teams need a minimum of three solid cornerbacks to help slow down opposing offenses. Having four at that spot is just a bonus.

If Minnesota's cornerbacks can play at the level we're used to seeing from that group in recent years, that should help the Vikings pass rush potential, too.

And help the Vikings defense earn back some respect after a disappointing 2020 season.

Maybe this is surprising after last season, but one of the areas I'm most excited about seeing this season is the defensive line. I couldn't be happier to see Danielle Hunter back and with Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson in the middle. It's going to be a beast for any offense to deal with. What do you think the opposite end position will look like this year? Stephen Weatherly is there, of course, but from what I've heard the rookies are making a good impression. And D.J. Wonnum can't be forgotten after making great strides last year.

— Andrew from Australiia

You aren't alone, Andrew. And thanks to you, too, for the Vikings support from across the globe.

Much like the cornerbacks above, I expect a bounce back from the defensive line as well in 2021.

Hunter has been covered before, including in last week's Mailbag, when I noted his 2020 absence was one of the biggest factors in a down year. So, his return and expected health will be a massive boost to the line.

Pierce and Tomlinson, too, will also be welcome additions up front. The Vikings run defense was porous in 2020, and those two rather large men will help. So, too, will Sheldon Richardson, most notably on pass-rushing downs.

As for the other starting defensive end spot, my best guess is that Weatherly will open camp as the starter. But, much like I note above, Wonnum could certainly earn the chance to be heavily involved in the rotation, if not win the starting job outright.

Wonnum clearly progressed as 2020 went along, and he'll need to keep going to continue his development.

I don't know if you'd call this a luxury or not, but the Vikings likely will be able to bring Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson along at their own paces as rookies. Neither will be expected to start, but both could see time in certain down and distances if they show enough in camp and the preseason.

With Andre Patterson still in charge of the defensive line and a unit that is stacked with veterans, this group should make like difficult for opposing offenses in 2021.

View photos of the Vikings 2021 schedule at U.S. Bank Stadium and on the road.

If necessary, will the Vikings replace Kirk Cousins with Kellen Mond to salvage the season?

—P. Johnson

I don't think so. I envisioned this question with a scenario similar to 2020 playing out in which the Vikings got off to a terrible 1-5 start.

Cousins was not benched then, and I don't think he would be if it happened again this season.

If you ask me, if it gets to the point where Mond is needed, the season is most likely lost. I like Mond's potential, but he showed this spring that he has a ways to go in order to be ready for NFL game action.

Mond rarely took second-string reps and was mostly relegated to third- and fourth-string snaps. And that's OK because the Vikings were certainly throwing anything and everything at him early on.

The hope is that Mond he can show strong progression in camp and the preseason, but there's zero doubt that this is Cousins' team in 2021.

Just wondering … after the teams cut down their rosters, do you think the Vikings will pick up a couple of big, veteran offensive linemen to shore up the line. I'd like to see Cousins survive a third down without landing on his butt.

— Brad in Alberta

Perhaps, but only if such players became available once all 32 teams trim their rosters down to 53 players.

You'd think that serviceable veterans wouldn't be cut, but you also never know in this league.

But it's also worth pointing out that the Vikings have poured heavy resources along their offensive line in the past four drafts, taking five total players on Day 1 or 2 in each of those four years.

That shows an investment in young talent, so I doubt the team would go get a veteran to start when those spots are nearly set.

Brian O'Neill, Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland will start in 2021. The left tackle spot is likely between Rashod Hill and Christian Darrisaw, while Dakota Dozier and Wyatt Davis are competing for the right guard gig.

That's seven linemen right there, and that doesn't include Mason Cole, Olisaemeka Udoh or Kyle Hinton. Most NFL teams keep roughly 10 offensive linemen once the regular season arrives.

The Vikings have shown they aren't afraid to bring in veteran linemen in recent years, with Riley Reiff the first coming to mind. But that was in free agency and not in late August.

In my eyes, the offensive linemen who will be on the first 53-man roster are already on the Vikings roster and won't be added from the outside.

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