Faceoff: Vikings battling in Mankato one last time
PHERSY: Hey Feldy, it feels way too early to be talking about football. While I love all things pigskin, I could use a few months off before we jump into the high school season and our annual Pigskin Preview. At any rate, your Vikings opened training camp last week. They’ve already been hit by the injury bug along the offensive line, and that’s frightening for a team that struggled to block last season. Feldy, you’ve already been over the camp; in addition to a few spots along the offensive line, what are the key position battles going down in Mankato?
FELDY: The good news about the O-line injuries is that things can’t get worse than the mesh wall the Vikings lined up last season. The position battle that will be fun to watch all throughout the preseason is at receiver. We know Michael Floyd is out for the first four games, but he looks and plays like he could be the team’s No. 1 target once he can play in real games. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Laquon Treadwell will be on the team for sure. That leaves Jarius Wright, rookies Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley, and Caledonia’s Isaac Fruechte among a group battling for one or two spots.
PHERSY: Feldy, you mentioned receivers, and that’s going to be an ultra competitive battle for only a few potential open roster spots. It could be one of the more heated position battles at camp, and there are some very good players on the outside looking in right now. Feldy, you didn’t mention Chad Greenway’s vacant linebacker spot. There are several guys competing for that open spot, but none of the players considered in the mix are “big name” players. Are you comfortable with the current competition for that key linebacker spot?
FELDY: I like where the Vikings are, so long as Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks stay healthy. And we know that is a big “if.” Barr appears to be the next Viking in line for a fat extension (along with Linval Joseph), so he’ll have motivation to stay on the field. The Vikings only spent about 30 percent of their defensive snaps in their base defense, which means that third linebacker isn’t on the field a lot. That’s why I like rookie fourth-rounder Ben Gedeon. He needs some work in pass coverage, but he can be “hidden” between Barr and Kendricks and learn on the fly. Vets Edmond Robinson, Emmanuel Lamur and Kentrell Brothers all are looking for reps, too, so keep an eye on those guys in preseason games.
PHERSY: Feldy, many eyes are on the competition at running back, too. This offseason, the Vikings signed free agent Latavius Murray and drafted Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. Adrian Peterson was on the decline, so Cook and Murray are upgrades to the running back position. Both can block and catch the ball out of the backfield, two weak spots for A.P. Feldy, Cook is the shiny new toy in the Vikings offense, and he will be given every opportunity to be a key cog. However, I really like Murray and his skill set. He’s a vet, and if he is healthy, he’s a top RB in this league. It’s refreshing that this team suddenly has loads of depth in the backfield.
FELDY: Murray has been almost an afterthought so far, the new guy starting camp on the PUP list while the young rook has become the talk of camp. But you’re right, Phersy. When Murray is healthy, to pair him with Cook in the backfield, well ... (insert fancy whistling noise here). That 1-2 punch of Murray and Cook (or Cook and Murray) will also free up Jerick McKinnon to be a Swiss army knife. If the Vikes can find a way to get McKinnon the ball with some space, he can make big plays. I could even envision all three on the field at the same time, with McKinnon lined up at a receiver spot. Now if that O-line could just hold up …