The Vikings begin reporting to the first training camp July 24 at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan. The first full-team practice is July 28. Check here for new details on tickets, parking and times.
Before then, the Star Tribune will take a look at each position group. Monday: Linebackers
On the 90-man roster: 11 linebackers Locks: OLB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks
Good bets: OLB Ben Gedeon, OLB Eric Wilson, LB Kentrell Brothers
On the bubble: LB Antwione Williams, LB Reshard Cliett, LB Garret Dooley
Practice squad candidates: LB Devante Downs, LB Brett Taylor, LB Mike Needham
(+) Kendricks re-signed on a five-year, $50 million extension with $11,638,000 guaranteed up front. … Drafted Cal linebacker Devante Downs in the seventh round. … Signed three UDFAs to the position: Garret Dooley (Wisconsin), Brett Taylor (Western Illinois) and Mike Needham (So. Utah). … Signed ex-South Florida linebacker Reshard Cliett to a one-year, $480,000 deal.
(-) Outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur signed a one-year deal with the Raiders.
The Vikings truly have a ‘two-tier’ roster, as general manager Rick Spielman has described, when it comes to linebackers. Aside from the top two investments in Barr and Kendricks, the Vikings have fortified them with a fourth-round pick in Gedeon and a handful of late-round and undrafted prospects. There are players who could surprise at the bottom of the depth chart. Throw in Brothers’ four-game suspension for PEDs and you’ve got a few roster spots up for grabs. At the top, Barr is awaiting a contract extension while entering the final year of his rookie deal (a NFL-leading $12.306 million salary this season for 4-3 outside linebackers).
“If there’s something there, [my agent] will run it by me. I’m making $12 million this year, man, I can’t complain. I’m coming to work, working hard,” Barr said last month. “I’ve done all I can do to prove my worth. Hopefully they see that.”
Kendricks is looking to tie the Vikings’ franchise record by leading the team in tackles each of his first four seasons. Rip Hawkins first did so from 1961-1964.
Can Barr take that next step? After an underwhelming season rushing the passer in 2017, Barr worked with the Vikings defensive linemen on pass-rush moves and fundamentals during spring practices. Barr has been a fixture of Mike Zimmer’s blitz schemes since he was drafted, but he’s produced just 10.5 sacks in four NFL seasons. The Vikings could use him in different ways this season, such as lining him up as an edge rusher more often.
“There are certain things I feel like I understand now being here five years,” Barr said. “Stuff I’ve done a thousand times now, where I feel they trust me to go do some other stuff. Being with the D-line for 5 to 10 minutes a day may not seem like a lot, but it adds up.”
What you should know
Between Brothers’ four-game suspension and Lamur’s exit, the Vikings have 471 snaps on special teams to replace from 2017. So the most competition in the preseason will take place among return and coverage teams between Williams, on last year’s practice squad, and newcomers like Cliett, Dooley and Downs.
$41,000 — The Vikings guaranteed undrafted ex-Badgers linebacker Garret Dooley a total of $41,000, trailing only two other UDFA signings in cornerback Holton Hill and receiver Korey Robertson. Dooley started 14 games for Wisconsin’s second-ranked defense last fall, accumulating 12 tackles for a loss.
Weak-side linebacker — Gedeon and Wilson took some first-team reps during spring practices. The Vikings could find separate roles for both players, depending on the game situation, as Gedeon showed to be better defending the run last season.