As we get closer to the first pre-season game on Friday at TCF Bank Stadium, we know a couple of pretty definitive things about the Minnesota Vikings.
1) We know both the first team offensive and defensive lines have been set, and since early in camp, it turns out. New coach Mike Zimmer likes continuity, which is why the offensive and defensive lines have seemingly been set since day one of training camp, if not before. Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, and Phil Loadholt will once again be your starting five on the offensive side of the ball, and the defensive line will consist of Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Shariff Floyd, and Everson Griffen.
2) Adrian Peterson is the starting running back.
Other than that, there's a lot of positional battles up for grabs. Let's break the key ones down, and give you an idea of what to look for come Friday night.
Quarterback: Defending the Cassel, or Teddy Time? Both players will see action with the first team, and how they play will give us some clarity on if Teddy Bridgewater really does have a legitimate chance to be the opening day starter. Both Cassel and Bridgewater have looked good in camp working with their respective teams, but Bridgewater has struggled a little bit more when moved to the first team for some reps. If he's going to make a legitimate push to be the starter, it's going to have to start Friday night. If Cassel plays well, though, it might not matter. I still say Bridgewater will be the opening day starter, but I'm a lot less confident in that than I was a week ago.
Your down roster wide receiver battle, Citizen Kain, Mr. Smith goes to Mankato, or Thielen groovy? Before I go any further, that was an awesome play on words, just sayin'. Anyhoo, the first few days of training camp seemed to be a battle between Adam Thielen and Kain Colter for a fifth receiver spot. Then Thielen took a small but unmistakable lead in day three. A couple days later, after a fairly rough beginning, Rodney Smith started coming on, while Colter seemed to plateau as both a receiver and a special teams returner. It still feels like this is Thielen's job to lose and after some live game action, I think we'll see a definite pecking order behind him. With Jerome Simpson still looking at a possible suspension, it's possible two of these guys could be on the roster come opening day.
The linebackers are a lot of things, but decided isn't one of them: The most unsettled position thus far in camp has been the linebacker corps. Outside of Chad Greenway, the Vikings have tried about every mix and match combination possible. It seems that first round pick Anthony Barr is getting a really long look at the first unit, but is still playing catch up from being forced to miss most of the OTA's and rookie camps. Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, and Jasper Brinkley have also been guys most associated with the first unit, either in the base 4-3 or the nickel so far, but the Vikings coaching staff has looked at everyone at one point or another.
I would expect Brinkley, Greenway, and Cole to start, and Greenway and Cole to be the nickel guys, but don't read a whole lot into that at this point. There's a long way to go, and I expect this position to have guys shuttling in and out all night long, and I wouldn't be surprised to see guys playing multiple positions, either.
So, about that secondary depth: In the first week and some change of training camp, the Vikings have been beset by minor but annoying injuries in the secondary. S Andrew Sendejo and CB Captain Munnerlyn started out camp on the PUP, but are now practicing. Robert Blanton, who started out camp as the starting safety opposite Harrison Smith, has tweaked his hamstring and has missed the last couple days. Those injuries have given guys like Derek Cox, Marcus Sherels, Jabari Price, and Jamarca Sanford an opportunity to step up and make some noise, and they have, to some extent. Still, that wasn't enough to satisfy the coaches, so the team went out and signed S Chris Crocker on Monday, giving that position more depth.
The presumed starters (Munnerlyn, Xavier Rhodes, Smith, Blanton) have yet to work a practice together (well, if they have, it's been one or two at most), so there's a lot of continuity to work on, along with determining the nickel and dime backs. The Vikings were also working on a heavy nickel package early in camp, with an extra safety as opposed to an extra CB, so they might show that look as well on Friday.
Hey, check out this place, not bad: Finally, the Vikings begin their march to the new stadium with a little detour--TCF Bank Stadium on the U of M campus. The Vikings have played one home outdoor game since 1981, a shellacking at the hands of the Bears in 2010. For old guys like me, who remember the days of the Purple People Eaters and old Metropolitan Stadium, I'm fired up about Vikings football being played in the elements for the next couple years, not gonna lie. The weather isn't going to be a factor on Friday, but it will eventually. I'm just going to enjoy the optics of the Vikings playing outside, at home, for the next two years.
Also, Vikings football is back guys!