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Looking at key positional battles heading towards training camp

Let’s look at defense and special teams today

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-Minicamp Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

From top to bottom, the Minnesota Vikings appear to have one of the more talented rosters in the NFL. On both sides of the ball, they have Pro Bowl talent at nearly every position group, young players that look like they can become Pro Bowl players, or both. Consequently, most of the starting jobs are presumably spoken for. But not everywhere, and there are some key backup position battles to be on the lookout for during this week’s mandatory minicamp, and then when training camp begins next month.

Yesterday, we looked at the offensive side of the ball. Today, let’s wrap this up with defense and special teams.


Although the Vikings lost Sheldon Richardson to free agency, they welcomed back old friend Shamar Stephen from Vikings West in Seattle, and he would seem to be the presumptive starter next to Linval Joseph. That’s not a guarantee, though, as Jaleel Johnson is on the third installment of his breakout season, and right behind (or ahead) is Jalyn Holmes. They are in the mix as well, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those two guys ends up starting. Curtis Cothran is a darkhorse guy for me, but I like him and I think he has the talent to make a serious run for a roster spot as well.


Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen are set, but like the interior line, there are a couple intriguing guys that will be in the mix for some playing time. Stephen Weatherly played well in Griffen’s absence last year and the Vikings are reportedly looking to extend his contract. Two other names that really intrigue me are Ifeadi Odenigbo and Hercules Mata’afa. No, it’s not because of the ridiculously hard spelling of their names, which shall vex me the whole time they’re on the roster, but because they seem to have really good skillsets that can push for a lot of playing time. Between DT and DE the Vikings appear to have one of the deepest and most talented lines in the entire NFL yet again.


Behind Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, there’s a lot more unknown than known, but Minnesota has some raw talent there. Ben Gedeon is going to be pushed by Eric Wilson, who flashed at times last year. Is this the year Kentrell Brothers can emerge as more than a solid special teams guy? And rookie Cameron Smith seems to have a solid football foundation, one that can molded into the type of linebacker that could excel in a Mike Zimmer defense.


For all the talent the Vikings have amassed here, depth is still a question, believe it or not. CB1 Xavier Rhodes looks to bounce back from a subpar and injury hampered season, while CB2 Trae Waynes enters the last year of his contract. Mike Hughes won’t be cleared to practice until training camp as he recovers from a torn ACL, and Holton Hill is going to be suspended the first four games of the season. It’s time for Mackensie Alexander to take that next step, and it looked like he was in the process of doing that last season. Kris Boyd is a late round draft pick out of Texas that’s raw, but flashes some talent, and you think that under Zim’s tutelage could develop into a solid player. There are a lot more questions than there should be for this group heading towards camp, and it’s unsettling for me.


The Vikings currently have seven safeties on the roster, but Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, and Jayron Kearse appear to have a hammerlock on three of the positions. Assuming they keep four, I would imagine sixth round pick Marcus Epps will get the first shot to win the job, but UDFA’s Micah Abernathy and Isaiah Wharton are really intriguing players. That will be a pitched down roster battle as training camp unfolds.


Hey kids, it’s Dan Bailey, the fourth most accurate kicker in NFL History! Excuse me? What? You’re sure? I’m being told that prior to signing with the Vikings, he was the SECOND most accurate kicker in NFL history. This is the most Vikings thing ever, so do that voodoo that you do, maybe Kicking Coach Nate Kaeding.


Matt Wile returns, but the Vikings may sign two guys, Justin Vogel and Shane Tripucka, THIS VERY DAY to compete with him come training camp. And it’s not because of Wile’s punting, it’s because of his holding on field goals and extra points. I mean, if I had a guy that was top ten in net punting average, I would think there are literally 52 other guys that can hold, but whatever.


We may have an actual, by God, long snapper Battle Royale this year. Kevin McDermott may be challenged by Air Force Second Lieutenant Austin Cutting. If the Air Force lets him go, that is. We won’t know about that until training camp is well underway. Right now, he’ll actually be able to take leave and be in Eagan, but how the hell a brand new second lieutenant already has 60 days of leave on the books is beyond me. Well, maybe he accrued it as a cadet or took advanced leave, but whatever. Anyway, the Air Force still hasn’t decided whether or not his waiver to defer or modify his active duty commitment will be approved, so it may be a moot point anyway.