Hi kids. It’s admittedly tough to write about football in the aftermath of the tragic news regarding OL Coach Tony Sparano. I’m not trying to be unseemly or insensitive here, but the games aren’t going to be cancelled, training camp is still going to start, the show must go on. We’re all lifting up the Sparano family up in our thoughts and prayers, and hope that they find some comfort and solace in the tributes that are pouring in about him. So, we’re going to get back to football. I hope that makes some kind of sense to everyone. If not, hit me up offline. My email is in my SB Nation profile. —Thanks, Ted
When the Minnesota Vikings report for training camp, there aren’t going to be a lot of roster spots up for grabs. That’s not unusual for a talent laden team with Super Bowl aspirations, so for younger players trying to find a job, it could be a hard road. It’s also a tough time of the season for some veterans that find themselves on the back side of their career. No job in the NFL is guaranteed unless you’re a franchise QB, or a QB that’s making over $80 million guaranteed (ARE THEY ONE IN THE SAME?), just ask Alex Boone last year.
So, who are the guys we think might surprise, and grab a roster spot? Let’s look at some candidates:
Holton Hill, CB: For Hill, it’s never been about talent. A lot of scouts thought he was worth a second or third round pick, but his maturity issues (failed drug test, perceived attitude) scared everyone off, and the Vikings signed him as an undrafted free agent. He’s impressed the coaches since he’s been in Minnesota, and if he can keep his off the field issues at bay, he seems like the type of CB Mike Zimmer loves to have in his defense.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE: Odenigbo was a seventh round pick last season that was a really intriguing pick. He has a good combination of size and speed, but he hurt his foot before training camp, and never really had a legit opportunity to showcase what he could do. He did enough to get to the practice squad, and if he can stay healthy, I think he can really push for a spot on the 53 man roster.
Ade Aruna, DE: Aruna is the 2018 Odenigbo, in my opinion. Sixth round guy, intriguing talent, close in size. I really am looking forward to seeing what both of these guys can do, and with back end depth on the DL not a certainty, I think there is an opportunity for someone to step up and win a job.
Brandon Zylstra, WR: When I did my 53 man roster projection, the Zylstra mafia chided me for not including him, so this is my peace offering to you, Zylstra Crime Family (I kid, I kid). Folks like to use Adam Thielen as his measuring stick, and other than the fact he’s a native Minnesotan who went to a small school in Minnesota (Concordia) and ws undrafted...ehhhhhh...I’m not seeing it, at least to the level of talent Thielen has. AT was a much better route runner than Zylstra was at this stage, and Zylstra isn’t as fast on film. That said, he put up some impressive numbers in the CFL, there’s going to be a lot of competition at the back end of the wide receiver position group, and Zylstra has talent, which means he has a decent shot. So are we good, Zylstra bandwagon? Will you quit egging my house now?*
*No one has egged my house. Yet.
Now, let’s take a look at some guys that might be on the bubble.
Marcus Sherels, CB/PR: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...just kidding. In all seriousness, Sherels seems like he’s an ‘on the bubble’ guy every year, yet every year he survives. The main reasoning for this perception is that he’s not a really good CB, and if the Vikes can find someone else to return punts, he’s done. I’ll freely admit he’s not the most talented CB on the roster, and he’s probably not even the 4th most talented. Yeah, he’s literally the best punt returner in Vikings history, but it’s not just that, it’s his entire special team repertoire that keeps him on the roster. So...if you can find a guy that can play CB in a pinch, return punts, AND can play on all the special teams units as well as Sherels does...then yeah, his job could be in jeopardy.
Tashawn Bower, DE, or Stephen Weatherly, DE: If Odenigbo and/or Aruna push for a spot, one or both of these guys could be the odd man out. I think the trio of Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, and Brian Robison making the roster is about as sure of a thing as walking into a Panamanian brothel wearing a suit made out of 100 dollar bills, so barring a dramatic turn of events there, the odd man or men out would be Bower or Weatherly.
Kai Forbath, K: I don’t know that it will be classified as a surprise if Daniel Carlson beats out Forbath to become the team’s kicker. It is mildly surprising that the Vikes are more than likely going to take a Super Bowl caliber team into 2018 with a rookie, though. I mean, you don’t draft a guy that high and then not keep him, so it seems the team will go with Carlson, barring something unforeseen. Yeah yeah, Forbath’s extra points and all, but the dude was money in the playoff game against the Saints last year, and was generally really good on field goals.
Terence Newman or Brian Robison: Let me be perfectly clear: I fully expect both of these guys to make the final 53. Their locker room presence is something you have to factor in here, and they are two of the main leaders on this team. The only reason I dare to even put them on here is because of age, and what happened last year to Boone. When camp started, no one...and I mean no one, saw Boone as a guy that was going to get cut, but he was consistently outplayed by Nick Easton in the pre-season. If you make me pick one of these guysthat could be outplayed by a younger guy to the point it gets him cut, I would go Newman. There’s a lot of talent at the CB position, Newman’s game slipped a bit last year, and I can see a scenario where the light comes on for Mac Alexander, Mike Hughes, and Hill while Newman loses even more of his physical gifts to Father Time, leaving him the odd man out. That’s still a longshot, and I think Newman makes the final 53, though.
But stranger things have happened.