MANKATO, Minn. -- When the remnants of a recently good roster all arrived here at Minnesota State University Wednesday (July 26), the theme will be hello and goodbye.
First, this will be the last time the Vikings hold training camp here as the team moves into its luxurious new headquarters in the Twin Cities this year and will have future summer camps there, well until further notice. So, hello and goodbye to MSU-Mankato.
It was without notice last year that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sidelined with a serious, non-contact knee injury and is on the PUP list as training camp began while Sam Bradford, acquired in a trade from Philadelphia last year, is the starting quarterback, until further notice.
Even his potential heir apparent, Latavius Murray, signed as a free agent (Oakland), is already on PUP, recovering from ankle surgery in March.
Also on PUP is rookie linebacker Shaan Washington, while fifth-year veteran defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is on the non-football injury list with nerve damage to his knee, and his career may be over.
The Vikings also got a key contract done as camp opened with the signing of a four-year extension for defensive end Everson Griffen.
Top Summer Battle
--Running back. For the first time since 2006, the Vikings head into a season without Peterson. Granted, they will use their top three backs in various situations as they transition away from an offense built around the best running back of this generation. But someone will emerge as the No. 1 back who gets more playing time.
It appears that battle will come down to rookie second-round draft pick Dalvin Cook and Murray.
Cook is the quick, fast and explosive player no one expected to fall out of the first round. Murray is the bigger, powerful back who, for now, is more polished in pass protection. Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick in 2014, is a talent the team will take advantage of. But he's more suited for a third-down role.
TRAINING CAMP: Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN
HEAD COACH: Mike Zimmer
4th season as Vikings/NFL head coach
26-23 overall; postseason 0-1
2016 finish: 3rd NFC North (8-8)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 315.1 (28th)
RUSHING: 75.3 (32nd)
PASSING: 239.8 (18th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 314.9 (3rd)
RUSHING: 106.9 (20th)
PASSING: 207.9 (3rd)
2017 PRESEASON SCHEDULE
All times Central
Aug. 10, at Buffalo (Thu), 6:00
Aug. 18, at Seattle (Fri), 9:00
Aug. 27, SAN FRANCISCO, 7:00
Aug. 31, MIAMI (Thu), 7:00
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Sam Bradford. Backups - Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, Taylor Heinicke, Wes Lunt.
Bradford is the undisputed starter heading into camp because Bridgewater likely needs another year to recover from the devastating knee injury that sidelined him for all of last season. Bradford would have the upper hand even if Bridgewater were healthy enough to compete. Despite arriving a week before last season began, Bradford became the starter in Week 2 - helping beat the Packers at home in his debut - and went on to set the NFL pass completion record despite the offense being ravaged by injuries. He should be even better with a full offseason to prepare. Keenum will start the season as the backup since Bridgewater is expected to begin on PUP. Keenum is a new face, but has experience in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's system. Heinicke is the front-runner for the No. 3 job.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters - Latavius Murray, FB C.J. Ham. Backups - Dalvin Cook, Jerick McKinnon, Terrell Newby, Bishop Sankey.
There will be a good battle between Murray, the new free-agent acquisition, and Cook, the explosive rookie second-round draft pick. Both will be used regardless of who wins the starting job. Murray missed offseason workouts while recovering from ankle surgery. Cook needs work in pass protection and ball security, but is a solid pass catcher. Ham is a converted running back, but is more suited to play fullback at 5-foot-11, 235. McKinnon will be used as a third-down weapon. He's a shifty back with strong receiving skills.
Rudolph is a matchup headache for defenses. He's also in his prime and should be used better in Shurmur's offense now that Rudolph and Bradford are more comfortable together. Hodges is a rookie sixth-round draft pick and a guy to keep an eye on. He offers very little as a blocker, but his ceiling as a receiver is very high. He's 6-foot-6, 257 pounds and is faster and longer than the typical tight end. Morgan is the blocking tight end that replaces Rhett Ellison, who left in free agency. Morgan is versatile and willing as a blocker. He's likely the No. 2 tight end when the Vikings go to two-tight end sets.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen. Backups - Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright, Michael Floyd, Rodney Adams, Moritz Bohringer, Stacy Coley, Isaac Fruechte, Cayleb Jones, R.J. Shelton.
Diggs isn't the typical No. 1 receiver at 6-foot, 191. But if he can stay healthy, he can put up big numbers in this offense. He's developed a chemistry with Bradford. Last year, Diggs had back-to-back games with 13 catches. But then nagging leg injuries overcame him down the stretch. Thielen is the ultimate rags-to-riches NFL story. An overachiever from Division II who goes from the practice squad to starter to big contract. Treadwell enters a pivotal season and is sitting on the hottest seat on the team. The 2016 first-round draft pick caught only one pass as a rookie. He looked slow and unable to separate. The team's spin is Treadwell was still recovering from injuries suffered in college. We'll see. He's fighting for the No. 3 receiver spot. But he has to hold off Michael Floyd, the native Minnesotan who returned home with a truckload of personal baggage. Floyd was suspended for the first four games of the season. If he gets his act together, he'll give the Vikings the big receiver they've lacked for a long time. Wright, the veteran of the unit, is an underrated weapon that is most dangerous out of the slot position. He's quick, smart in his route running and deceptively fast.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Riley Reiff, LG Alex Boone, C Nick Easton, RG Joe Berger, RT Mike Remmers. Backups - G/T Jeremiah Sirles, C Pat Elflein, G/T T.J. Clemmings, G Willie Beavers, T Aviante Collins, T Reid Fragel, T Rashod Hill, G Danny Isidora, G Zac Kerin, T Austin Shepherd, G Freddie Tagaloa.
The assumption is the offensive line will be better than the unit that was devastated by injuries last season. Of course, that's not saying much considering the Vikings went through 12 linemen total and five left tackles. The Vikings were desperate in free agency, knowing that there were no tackles of any value in the draft. So they jumped in full force and signed Reiff from Detroit and Remmers from Carolina. The good news is they're young and durable. The bad news is neither of their former teams felt they were good enough to keep despite being young and durable. Reiff is a former first-round pick of the Lions. The Lions wanted him to be their long-term answer at left tackle, but moved him to right tackle after spending another first-round pick on a tackle. Then the Lions let him walk after they dipped into free agency for his replacement this offseason. Boone didn't live up to the hype last season after arriving as the team's prized free-agent signing. But he'll benefit from some stability on the line. Center is up for grabs between young veteran Easton and rookie third-round pick Eflein. Reliable veteran Berger keeps going strong at 35. He can start at any of the three interior positions, but seems set at right guard baring injuries. Sirles is a valuable, experienced backup at all positions except center. Clemmings was a starter in his first two seasons, but that was more out of desperation than anything else. He'll move to guard and work to provide depth.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Danielle Hunter, DT Datone Jones, NT Linval Joseph, DRE Everson Griffen. Backups - DLE Brian Robison, DT Tom Johnson, NT Shamar Stephen, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Tashawn Bower, DT Dylan Bradley, DT Jaleel Johnson, DE Caleb Kidder, DE Sam McCaskill, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, DT Will Sutton.
Hunter had only one start in his first two seasons, but posted 20.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher. He'll most likely relegate 34-year-old veteran Robison to backup and part of the nickel packages as an interior rusher. Joseph can be a force in the middle. He's tough to move in the running game and has quick enough feet to disrupt the passing game. Jones, the former first-round pick of the Packers, is being moved from end to the three-technique, where the Vikings and Jones believe he's better suited to play. If he can't win the starting job, the Vikings can fall back on 33-year-old Tom Johnson. Johnson is still a force as a nickel pass rusher, but the team would prefer to limit his reps against the run. Griffen is equally strong against the run and pass from the right edge. He has All-Pro potential. Floyd, a force at the three-technique during the rare times he's been healthy, missed all but last season because of a knee injury. Nerve damage in the leg will keep him off the field heading into the season, and probably will end his career.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Emmanuel Lamur, MLB Eric Kendricks, SLB Anthony Barr. Backups - MLB Kentrell Brothers, WLB Edmond Robinson, OLB Ben Gedeon, OLB Elijah Lee, LB Shaan Washington, OLB Eric Wilson.
Kendricks is the leader of the group. He has led the team in tackles in both of his seasons. If he stays healthy, he'll make it three in a row. He's undersized for the middle, but fast, quick and very instinctive. Barr is All-Pro material when he pushes himself. He tends to coast, which is something the team is trying to shake him out of. He had few flash plays last season, but is capable of being one of the best and most versatile linebackers in the league. The weak-side 'backer spot in the base is up for grabs with Chad Greenway now retired. The position plays only about 40 percent of the time, but is important against the run. Robinson, a backup to Barr on the strong side, could make a serious run at the position. Lamur, who has been in this defense going back to when head coach Mike Zimmer was defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, would seem to have the inside track.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Trae Waynes, RCB Xavier Rhodes, FS Harrison Smith, SS Andrew Sendejo. Backups - CB Terence Newman, CB Mackensie Alexander, S Antone Exum Jr., S Anthony Harris, S Jayron Kearse, CB Jabari Price, CB Marcus Sherels, CB Horace Richardson, CB Tre Roberson, CB Terrell Sinkfield, S Jack Tocho, CB Sam Brown.
Rhodes and Smith are Pro Bowlers who will make a push for All-Pro status at ages 26 and 28, respectively. Rhodes has the size, length, instincts and swagger to be one of the best shutdown corners in the league. Smith has all that and the versatility and nasty streak to be a force at the line of scrimmage and in deep coverage. Waynes, a first-round pick in 2014, is ready to start at left corner. But Newman, who turns 39 before the season, isn't ready to just sit around. He'll compete for the starting job, and could end up being the nickel back in the slot now that Captain Munnerlyn is gone. Alexander was drafted in the second round last year to take Munnerlyn's job this year. Whether he's ready for that assignment full-time remains to be seen. Sendejo once again heads into camp looking to fend off competition from many others. Exum, Harris and Kearse will make a run at the 29 year old. But Sendejo is a scrappy overachiever who just refuses to let go of his starting job.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Kai Forbath, K Marshall Koehn, P Ryan Quigley, P Taylor Symmank, LS Kevin McDermott, KOR Rodney Adams, KR Stacy Coley, PR Marcus Sherels.
There's much that needs to be settled on special teams before the Vikings open the regular season. There will be open competition at kicker, punter and kickoff returner. At kicker, Forbath returns after settling the waters midseason a year ago. When Blair Walsh's confidence completely bottomed out, it was Forbath who came in and made all 15 of his field-goal attempts. But Forbath lacks the leg strength the team prefers for longer attempts and kickoffs. Koehn has no regular-season experience, but has a much bigger leg than Forbath. At punter, the Vikings are looking to replace Jeff Locke, who was inconsistent throughout his four-year career before moving on in free agency. Quigley was signed in free agency. He has the experience. Symmank has no regular-season experience but does have a big leg. At kickoff returner, the Vikings will miss Cordarrelle Patterson, who led the league in returns three of the past four seasons. The leading candidates to replace him are rookie receivers Adams and Coley. They were drafted in the fifth and seventh rounds in large part for their return skills. Sherels continues to be one of the steadiest and deceptively quick punt returners in the league.