With training camp beginning in less than three weeks, the Minnesota Vikings have a few positions on the depth chart locked up. However, there are a few intriguing positional battles that will be taking place over the three weeks of training camp.
These include starting quarterback, starting middle linebacker (which I will commonly refer to as the “Mike” linebacker), and starting left offensive guard. Starting quarterback will be contested by Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. It looks like Audie Cole, Jasper Brinkley, and possibly Chad Greenway will compete for the starting mike linebacker spot. Finally, Charlie Johnson and David Yankey could potentially duel it out for the starting left guard spot.
Starting quarterback is an interesting battle for a few reasons–mainly because the Vikings have struggled to find their “guy” at quarterback since the 2008 season. Head coach Mike Zimmer has said multiple times that he isn’t going to name a starter until he feels the time is right, and with good reason. However, this isn’t going to stop me from analyzing the battle for starting quarterback to death. Most people think Matt Cassel is an early favorite to win the battle, because Norv Turner has an affinity for Cassel (recall that he wanted Cassel as a quarterback while in Cleveland).
Even if this is so, I don’t think Matt Cassel brings a whole lot to the table in terms of a starting NFL quarterback. He’s had his fair share of ups and downs, but if one thing is for certain it’s that Cassel won’t be the reason the Vikings win any games in 2014. Cassel is the type of quarterback who you send in when your starter goes down–to “hold down the fort” and not lose your team the football game.
However, Teddy Bridgewater could be a breath of fresh air for Vikings fans. He offers a lot more than Cassel and displays much more upside as well. If Bridgewater can pick up Norv Turner’s offense well enough during training camp, don’t be surprised if he gets the bump over Cassel. The dark horse in this situation is Christian Ponder. Much can be said about his time in Minnesota, but ultimately I think his time with the Vikings is over, and he will probably spend the rest of the season watching either Bridgewater or Cassel from the sidelines (barring any unforeseen injuries, of course).
The next positional battle to watch is the battle for starting mike linebacker. This is an important one because of the current questions at the linebacker position. Another thing to consider is that Zimmer might employ a hybrid defensive scheme, involving multiple 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts.
Jasper Brinkley has to be the favorite going into training camp because of his experience at the position, as well as his excellent run stopping capabilities. Brinkley is, however, very suspect in pass protection, which could lead to Zimmer getting creative with his set of linebackers in obvious pass situations.
Audie Cole is a second year player who had little playing time in his rookie season, when he didn’t blow anyone away, but also didn’t necessarily play badly. Cole is still a young, instinctive linebacker, so although he might not win the starting role this season, he should be in the future plans for Mike Zimmer and the Vikings.
The last possibility could be Chad Greenway. Even though he’s spent his entire career playing outside, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings tried moving him inside. Greenway’s strength has always been in run support, and he has always been a lame duck in pass coverage–which might make him a better fit to play in the middle. You can especially expect to see Greenway in the middle if the Vikings decide to make use of any 3-4 defensive fronts. If that were the case, he would be much more comfortable in the middle of the defense than on the line of scrimmage acting like a pass rusher.
I think the Vikings’ best bet here is to move Greenway to the inside, depending on the way some of the outside linebackers look during camp who would be taking Greenway’s spot outside (guys like Anthony Barr and Gerald Hodges).
One position that might be overlooked is the battle for starting left guard. This is because last year’s starter, veteran Charlie Johnson, was just resigned for 2-years, $2.5 million/year. Johnson has also started every game but one since he’s signed with the Vikings, and add this to the fact that the guy who he’ll be competing against is a 5th round draft pick. Johnson will most definitely be the favorite for the starting spot when training camp opens, but I think David Yankey will really push for that spot during the three weeks of camp.
Johnson has been versatile for the Vikings over his three-year stint, playing both left tackle and left guard. However, he has been average over his time with the team, and by no means is his spot in the starting rotation guaranteed–especially if a guy like Yankey blows the coaches away. Before the combine, Yankey was seen as one of the top two guards in the draft, alongside UCLA guard Xavier Su’a-Filo. After a poor combine performance, Yankey fell to round five, where the Vikings selected him. I’m a big fan of Yankey as I have watched him consistently run over UCLA defensive linemen during my time there.
Yankey might be a bit oversized to play guard, a whopping 6-foot-6, but his athleticism makes up for it. The former Stanford guard showed an ability to efficiently pull and lead block in his time at Stanford. He also displays great footwork, as well as tremendous power at the point of attack. However, the thing that I think will ultimately put Yankey over the top of Johnson is Yankey’s intelligence and above average instincts on the offensive line.
Although there will be open competition at almost every position for the Vikings this coming training camp, it looks like the positions of starting quarterback, starting mike linebacker, and starting left guard are the most intriguing. It’s not clear who will start at these spots, but once training camp gets underway Vikings fans will have a better idea of who they’ll be seeing in purple and gold next season.