The Minnesota Vikings have officially begun training camp, meaning the regular season is just weeks away. With most of the roster set in stone there are still many key position battles that have yet to take place. Whether it’s just trying to make the team or pushing towards the starting lineup, these three weeks are important to players in the mist of making the team. Here are some training camp battles to keep your eyes on.
James Vandenberg v. McLeod Bethel-Thompson
With Christian Ponder a lock for the starting role and Matt Cassel a safe backup, the 3rd string quarterback position is once again up in the air going into training camp. Last year Mcleod Bethel-Thompson opened eyes during preseason and training camp with his explosive down-field throws and potential. The play of Bethel-Thompson landed him on the Vikings 53-man roster as he beat out veteran quarterback Sage Rosenfels. After a 2013 season of bench warming, Bethel-Thompson will return to defend his spot on the roster against undrafted free agent James Vandenberg. After a less than stellar senior year at the University of Iowa, Vandenberg is trying to make a career in the NFL.
Coming off a solid junior year with 25 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, Vandenberg struggled to stay consistent his senior year throwing for only 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Vandenberg finished his Iowa career with 5,786 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent as he felt it was the “best fit”.
In last seasons preseason Mcleod Bethel-Thompson came out of nowhere to eventually make the 53-man roster. Since 2011, Bethel-Thompson has been bouncing around the NFL and even made an appearance in the United Football League. The Vikings were the first NFL team that signed him to a full year.
Going into training camp Bethel-Thompson has the edge simply because of his little NFL experience. However Vandenberg did play in the Big 10 conference, one of college football’s most elite conferences.
3rd String Running Back
Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are locks to make the Vikings 53-man roster, but the third running back spot could have some stiff competition again this year. Matt Asiata led all Vikings in rushing yards last preseason as he sprinted his way onto the 2012 roster. Asiata has a great shot at returning to the team but undrafted rookies Jerodis Williams out of Furman University and Bradley Randle out of UNLV will pose as his biggest competitors.
Williams, an extremely quick running back, rushed for over 1000 yards in each of his last 2 seasons and totaled 20 touchdowns. The speedy running back was also very efficient running routes as he caught 26 passes for 171 yards his senior year.
Bradley Randle skipped his senior season to enter the NFL and has high hopes for making the Vikings final cut. The 5’7″ running back from UNLV finished his Junior year with 138 rushing attempts for 635 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Randle is a versatile player that can block, catch, run, and even do some kick/punt returning.
Matt Asiata will be entering his second full season in the NFL after spending his rookie season on the Vikings practice squad. After proving himself in preseason last year as he rushed for 134 yards and averaged 5.82 yards per carry, he will need a similar effort to remain on the roster this upcoming season. Due to Asiata’s size he has the ability to play the fullback position on short yardage situations.
Asiata will likely be the favor to win the spot due to his experience in the league, but more often than not the third string running back position is won on special teams.
Wide Receiver Battles
The Vikings will have plenty of wide receiver talent this season with key additions of Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings. With Jennings, Patterson, Simpson, and second-year receiver Jarius Wright all but locks to make the team, the Vikings will likely need only one additional receiver on the 53-man roster. The competition will be stiff as the Vikings currently have 12 receiver on the roster.
It was a bitter start to his professional career for wide receiver Greg Childs last year when he tore both his patellar tendons in training camp. Fortunately for the Vikings and Childs it appears that he will be making a comeback and could potentially be ready for the regular season. At the University of Arkansas Child’s had over 2000 yards receiving and reached the end zone 15 times. Childs stands tall at 6 feet 3 inches and is poised as a deep threat receiver. Childs will start training camp on the PUP [physically unable to perform] list and there is no current timetable as to when he will come off the PUP list.
Undrafted out of Florida State, rookie Rodney Smith brings to the table incredible height. Listed at 6 feet 4 inches, Smith has the ability to take the ball deep and cause height miss-matches problems for defenders. His height and length (84-inch wingspan) give him an upper hand that very few NFL wide receivers have. Smith could just be that diamond in the rough that the Vikings are carefully looking for.
Joe Webb, who was drafted as a wide receiver and quickly transformed into a quarterback, is officially a wide receiver. Wearing the same #14 jersey as last year, Joe Webb is poised to make the team as a wide receiver with his size, speed, and pure athleticism. Although Webb has all the skills to be a top notch wide receiver he will need to improve his route running to solidify a roster position.
Jamarca Sanford v. Mistral Raymond
Mistral Raymond was the starting safety going into the 2012 season but after suffering a fractured ankle he would have to be sidelined for a month. Jamarca Sanford took over the job and opened eyes with his forceful tackle and quickness in the backfield. He racked up 66 tackles and even led the way with four forced fumbles. Sanford, on top of that, had five passes defended. Sanford proved he has the talent to be a starting caliber safety last year and will look to lock the starting position once again this year.
Raymond has yet to play a full season without injury. Entering his third year he has played only 10 games in each of his first two seasons and has only a career 38 tackles. Raymond does have some height in his game (6 foot, 1 inch) and can use that well to his advantage deep down the field.
Sanford has to be a high favorite for the starting safety job, alongside Harrison Smith. His quickness, toughness, and high voltage hitting all combine to make a great defensive back.
Christian Ballard v. Everett Dawkins
The Vikings undoubtedly have one of the best defensive lines in the league year in and year out. It’s always been a reputation for them to create a feared and powerful line that can intimidate any offense. Christian Ballard has been representing the D-line for two years now and has seen some action every week. Ballard has 29 career tackles and a sack in his first two seasons. Obviously not impressive stats but when Kevin Williams and Jared Allen are taking up half the defensive line, your not going to get subbed in too often.
Vikings defensive line coach Brendan Daly said Ballard has had, “A really good offseason” and that he has “been extremely detailed about his work.”
Out of the University of Florida State, rookie Everett Dawkins will be given a tough start to his professional career as he attempts to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The stakes will be high for Dawkins, a 7th round pick in this past draft, as he has a lot of prove in a short amount of time. Weighing in at 293 lb and measured at 6 feet 2 inches, Dawkins is a big defender who does a great job keeping his pad level low. Defensive line coach Daly said he expects Dawkins to “show up well” when the pads come on.
The competition at the defensive line will be intriguing to watch as the Vikings have a lot of young talent across the board.