To-Drew List: Vikings Training Camp Storylines

To-Drew List: Vikings Training Camp Storylines

Vikings Barroom Assistant Editor Drew Mahowald revives his weekly column called ‘To-Drew List’ by listing his favorite storylines heading into Vikings training camp.

It’s been a very, very long time since the Minnesota Vikings played football.

The last time the Purple and Gold suited up was over six months ago, and that particular game ended in forgettable heartbreaking fashion.

So, yeah, it’s about time training camp arrived.

The Vikings officially report to training camp for the 2016 season on Thursday while holding the first official practice on Friday at Minnesota State University in Mankato. Plenty of juicy storylines cloud the team after dethroning the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title a season ago. Can Teddy Bridgewater take the proverbial next step in his third season? Will Adrian Peterson prove to be a capable back in the passing game? Can Minnesota’s offensive line not be a dumpster fire? Will Norv Turner be less predictable calling plays? Who will earn the starting strong safety job?

Obviously, there’s a bunch of things to look for when Mike Zimmer’s team hits the field for training camp in the simmering August heat. To make things easier, I’ll list the top five storylines I’ll be paying attention to during training camp.

5. Can the German Sensation hold his own?

Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman, along with Zimmer and the rest of the front office, decided to use a sixth round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on German wide receiver Moritz Bohringer. The 6’4″, 227-pound freak of nature used his incredible combination of size and athleticism to dominate German professional leagues. It also earned him interest from numerous NFL scouts.

Can Bohringer translate his physical talent into NFL production? Can he handle the gruesome wear and tear of an NFL training camp? I mean, the poor guy vomited during minicamp and that’s minicamp. I can’t wait to see how he handles the scorching August heat in Mankato, let alone competing against legitimate NFL defensive backs.

It’s a pretty cool story, no doubt about it. But ‘MoBo’ is the definition of a project, and he’ll need to show fans that the Vikings didn’t select him in the draft solely for publicity reasons.

4. Who will earn starting reps on the offensive line?

This unit was piss-poor last season, however you want to look at it. Granted, season-ending injuries to John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt during preseason certainly didn’t help the cause.

Entering 2016, the Vikings offensive line is poised to be much improved from a season ago. Spielman acquired former San Francisco 49ers mauler Alex Boone to replace Brandon Fusco at left guard, while Sullivan is reportedly healthy and ready to go for training camp after recovering from multiple back surgeries. Additionally, Spielman added 2009 first round pick Andre Smith from the Cincinnati Bengals to bolster the tackle position.

For now, the left side of the unit is pretty set — former fourth overall selection Matt Kalil will start at left tackle, while Boone slides in at left guard. However, the remaining three positions are all up for grabs.

Sullivan’s health is really the only factor in the battle for the starting center position. If Sully is healthy, look for him to reclaim his starting role there. If Sully’s back is still causing issues, Joe Berger will likely continue to start at center after taking over in 2015 — admirably I might add.

Berger, Fusco and Mike Harris will battle for the starting right guard slot. If Sullivan is healthy enough to start at center, Berger will likely be the guy at right guard. However, if Berger is forced to man the middle position, a battle between Fusco and Harris will take place for the right guard job.

I really don’t see how Harris wouldn’t be the favorite in that scenario. Throughout 2015, he was easily Minnesota’s second-most reliable offensive lineman, while Fusco was probably the least reliable of the unit. Sure, Fusco’s days at right guard before 2015 were pretty darn good, but that was years ago. Harris has been better most recently — it’s just the truth. And Fusco will need to prove to me he really is better than Harris before I hand him that throne.

Lastly, at right tackle, newly-acquired Andre Smith appears to be the frontrunner, especially after long-time veteran Phil Loadholt hung up his cleats for good. However, second-year man T.J. Clemmings, who was spun around often as a rookie, will scratch and claw for the job during training camp.

Regardless of who wins what battles for each respective starting position, the Vikings enter the 2016 season with legitimate depth on the offensive line for the first time in many, many years. At the least, this unit — if it stays healthy — should be a middle-of-the-pack group in 2016, resulting a significant upgrade for Bridgewater and the offense over previous years.

3. Will Trae Waynes compete for a starting job?

I spent all of the 2015 season trying to defend Spielman’s selection of Trae Waynes with the 11th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. I will admit, though, that it became difficult to do so when he played a large majority of his snaps on special teams.

When Waynes did see the field during his rookie campaign, he made significant strides as the season wore on. Still, questions persisted. When will Waynes become large piece to this defense? Why isn’t he seeing the field yet? Is he a bust?

The answers to those questions could come from training camp. Current starter Terence Newman is already 50 years old — or something like that — and isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, Minnesota spent a second round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on another competitive cornerback on Mackensie Alexander, who should light a fire under Waynes’ you-know-what.

Waynes’ issues so far dealt with inconsistent hip and footwork technique. Thus, the former Michigan State standout tends to struggle with short, underneath routes. If Waynes can show a thing or two during camp and earn that starting gig, the foundation of a legitimate 1-2 cornerback punch in Waynes and Xavier Rhodes will be laid, vaulting the nasty Vikings defense to even taller heights.

2. Can Cordarrelle Patterson earn a role in this offense?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@DrewMahowald) know how I feel about Patterson. After two straight seasons of disappointment, I can’t get myself to believe in him going into 2016. I just can’t do it. He is unable to do many vital skills that wide receivers at the NFL level should be able to do. Namely, those include running routes, gaining separation from defensive backs and battling with defenders for 50/50 balls.

Reports have surfaced — as they have the past three summers now — that Patterson has had a fantastic offseason and honed in his skillset as a wide receiver. Really? The same thing was said about this guy a year ago, and he caught two passes in 2015. TWO.

I want to see him go head-to-head with cocky and physical cornerbacks like Rhodes, Alexander and Waynes and win. I want to see him run precise routes. Basically, I want to see him look like an NFL wide receiver.

And, hey, after all, it is Patterson’s contract year. Maybe he actually is motivated to improve on his game and make a name for himself as something other than just a kick return specialist.

Listen, all I want is Patterson to show me real improvement on the field before I believe in him. That’s all. All these videos he posts on social media of himself running routes against ghosts and sprinting on the beach don’t change my opinion.

Show me real results against real competition. That’s all I ask.

1. Who earns the starting strong safety position?

The easy answer to this question is probably the guy who just signed a $16 million contract extension with Minnesota — Andrew Sendejo. And while he is definitely the favorite, there are a number of other candidates who will give the incumbent a run for his money.

During free agency, Spielman acquired former Pro Bowler and long-time Tennessee Titan Michael Griffin to a one-year deal. Once an elite player at the position, Griffin is just a shell of his former self. However, his experience will help him not only in the competition, but also in terms of imposing wisdom on the younger candidates for the job.

Those younger candidates include undrafted second-year man Anthony Harris, 2014 sixth-rounder Antone Exum and 2016 seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse. Both Exum and Kearse possess the physical qualities to play the position at a high level, but mental lapses have been a cause for concern throughout their respective careers.

If any of those three guys will compete for the job, it’ll be Anthony Harris. In limited action a season ago, he showed serious promise as a future counterpart to Harrison Smith. His instincts, range, and ball skills all flashed while also showing off an ability to stuff the run.

To me, this is the most intriguing storyline heading into the 2016 edition Vikings training camp. Sendejo struggled on several occasions in 2015, often being too aggressive and giving up a big play. Harris, on the other hand, is a two-way safety that will allow more versatility for Zimmer in his defense.

I’ll leave you with this video from Luke Inman that captures the flashes of brilliance from Harris in 2015. It might be 2016, it might not be. But one thing is for sure — Harris will make his presence known in the NFL sooner or later.

For more coverage of Vikings training camp, follow @DrewMahowald and @VikingsBarroom on Twitter. Also, be sure to check out the ‘About The Labor’ Vikings podcast on iTunes.



The View From The Barstool: Back To Work

Print this entry

Related Articles

Trubisky Now because …

One of the ways I deal with stress in my life is that I write. It helps me organize my

Teddy Bridgewater Injury Brings Back Familiar Feelings

Minutes after news of the Teddy Bridgewater injury broke Vikings Barroom Assistant Editor Drew Mahowald volunteered to share his thoughts

Kevin Schroeder’s Player Performance Grades: Bears vs Vikings

If this were a movie, Mitchell Trubisky would have led the team down the field for the game-winning touchdown Monday

No comments

Write a comment
No Comments Yet! You can be first to comment this post!

Write a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*