Minnesota Vikings: What to Look for during Training Camp

Can Minnesota Finally Find Stability at Right Guard?
The Minnesota Vikings have invested significant draft capital into their offensive line, hoping to provide quarterback Kirk Cousins with the protection needed to make the team a Super Bowl contender. However, the right guard position has remained a revolving door for the Vikings during the Cousins Era. A combination of injuries and abysmal performances has resulted in constant shuffling and an inability to find a reliable starter at right guard. Guards Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, Dru Smia, and Oli Udoh have all failed to secure the position. Can any current Viking step into the role and be serviceable?

Luckily for Vikings fans, the void at right guard did not go unnoticed by new General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The Vikings signed free agent guards Jesse Davis, formerly of the Miami Dolphins, and Chris Reed, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, and used Pick 59 in the 2022 NFL Draft on LSU guard Ed Ingram. Davis and Reed appear to be the frontrunners to win the battle for the starting right guard spot, as they both took snaps with the first-team offense during Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Although Ingram did not see action with either the first-team or second-team offense, he could find his way into fighting for the right guard spot in the near future. The front office showed that they believe that he is the long term solution at the position, so it is only a matter of time until he makes his way into the competition. 

Regardless of who ends up lining up between center Garrett Bradbury and right tackle Brian O’Neill Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, Vikings fans are hoping they can provide stability at the position. It is important to note that the Week 1 starter could very well be replaced later in the season. Left guard Ezra Cleveland, a second round pick like Ingram, did not get his first start until Week 6 in 2020. The Vikings could take a similar approach by placing Ingram in the lineup as the season progresses. As for the battle between Davis and Reed, the Vikings have their choice between a highly experienced veteran who has faced frequent struggles in Davis and a less experienced but more reliable true interior lineman in Reed. New Head Coach Kevin O’Connel and the rest of his staff hope that one of the guards on the Vikings’ roster can separate themselves and rise to the top during Training Camp.

Are the Rookie Defensive Backs Ready to Elevate the Vikings’ Secondary?
The Vikings’ secondary play in recent years has been far from desirable, particularly in 2021 in which they allowed the fourth most passing yards in the league. “Defensive back guru” and former Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer appeared to be more of a defensive back amateur in developing first round pick cornerbacks Trae Waynes (2015, 11th overall), Mike Hughes (2018, 30th overall), and Jeff Gladney (2020, 31st overall). Although these players faced other issues such as injuries and legal concerns, their times in Minnesota were disappointments. The failure to develop young talent in the secondary has resulted in a constantly shuffling unit which has struggled to slow down opposing offenses. 

The front office made the secondary a major priority during the 2022 NFL Draft, selecting Georgia safety Lewis Cine (Round 1, 32nd overall), Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (Round 2, 42nd overall), and Missouri cornerback Akayleb Evans (Round 4, 118th overall). Vikings fans have been haunted by failed investments into the secondary and are hoping new Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell can evoke these rookies’ potential. Cine and Booth appear to have strong chances to emerge as starters if they can impress during Training Camp, as the only guaranteed starters in the secondary are veterans Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith. 

Training Camp should be an amazing opportunity for Cine to demonstrate his aggressive play style and instinctual athleticism which made him a first round pick. The night Cine was drafted, Coach O’Connell claimed that the Vikings defense will frequently feature three safeties: Smith, Cine, and second-year defensive back Camryn Bynum. Bynum showed promise in limited action in 2021 and will be a strong competitor with Cine for the starting safety position next to Smith. Whether Cine wins the battle or not, his unique skill set will ultimately get himself on the field in some capacity. The question is if he can elevate the previously lackluster play of the Vikings’ secondary. 

As for Booth, he and the Vikings are yet to agree to terms on his rookie contract, which could hinder him from participating in Training Camp. If he does sign, Training Camp will allow him to showcase his elite ball skills and impressive athleticism. It will also allow the Vikings’ coaching staff to evaluate his recovery from a sports hernia surgery in March. The Vikings will receive a major boost if Booth can make a day one impact. They have not had a cornerback with such great ball skills since Antoine Winfield Sr., a major playmaker for the Vikings in the 2000s. Cine and Booth are the high profile young talents in the Vikings secondary, but look for Evans to be a fierce competitor in Training Camp as well. The cornerback room is wide open, but not lacking in competition, with young talents like Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand and veterans like Chandon Sullivan and Nate Hariston. It should be exciting to see if the rookies can stand out amongst the rest.

Which Second Year Vikings can take a Major Leap in 2022?
Last year, the Vikings called for several second year players to step into larger roles: Zera Cleveland, Cameron Dantzler, edge rusher D.J. Wonnum, linebacker Troy Dye, and wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Some of these players took major steps forward while others remain to prove that they can be starters for the Vikings. The team’s 2021 draft features several players who could find themselves on the field much more often if they can impress during Training Camp. Outside of left tackle Chritian Darrisaw, kick returner and running back Kene Nwangwu, and Camryn Bynum, the Vikings’ eleven man draft class saw little to no action on game days in 2021. Hopefully a coaching change will allow for these young players to earn larger opportunities in 2022.

The lack of production from the Vikings’ 2021 third round picks was a huge disappointment. The Vikings used four third round picks to select quarterback Kellen Mond, linebacker Chazz Surratt, offensive guard Wyatt Davis, and defensive end Patrick Jones II. Mond will not surpass Kirk Cousins on the depth chart in 2022, but his progression could be vital to the Vikings’ future. While he was not expected to play last season, he failed to beat out veteran Sean Mannion to be Cousins’ backup. This offseason is the time for Mond to impress and solidify the second string quarterback position. Surratt, already age 25, must also show out during this year’s Training Camp if he wants to stand out as a difference maker for the Vikings. The quarterback turned linebacker did not see a single defensive snap last season, being just his third year playing his new position. However, his age implies that he should be a more polished player, which the Vikings could use to add depth and reliability to their linebacking core. Wyatt Davis, a two-time All-American selection at Ohio State, also took no snaps on his side of the ball in 2021. The right guard position is now completely up for grabs, which gives the talented Davis a chance to compete for a starting role. Although a major underdog, Davis has a better shot to earn the spot in comparison to last offseason when he was recovering from a knee injury. The last of the third round picks, Jones, was given some playing time, but not enough to determine his value on the Vikings’ roster. A defensive scheme change could benefit the young defensive end and result in more impact than he had last season.

While these former third round picks are possible candidates to break out in 2022, some Vikings’ day three picks could surprise during Training Camp as well. Edge rusher Janarius Robinson is a very intriguing second year Viking who missed his rookie season due to a lower body injury. Robinson was a five-star recruit coming out of high school but did not fully live up to that status during his four years at Florida State. If Robinson can unleash some of his untapped potential, the Vikings may have another great pass rushing weapon. Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette will also be given the opportunity to climb the depth chart. The Vikings’ starting wide receivers are solidified, but the depth is in question. Smith-Marsette showed glimpses of being a dangerous vertical threat last season, a skill the new coaching staff may look to capitalize on more than the previous. Particularly with Adam Thielen’s recent injury history, wide receiver depth may be critical for the Vikings. Lastly, Vikings fans wish for defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman to be able to see the field. Twyman was shot four times in June of 2021 and thankfully survived and had a successful recovery. He was extremely productive at Pitt in 2019 when he tallied 10.5 sacks for the Panthers. It will be a great moment when he gets to see the field, and even greater if he can be a contributor.