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Vikings cornerback Chris Cook (center) at Winter Park in May.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

Chart: Five things about the Vikings defense

  • July 25, 2012 - 9:49 PM

1 BIGGEST PRIORITY

In the pass-happy NFC North, the Vikings best find a way to stabilize a secondary that was shredded like Chipotle carnitas last season. That means Antoine Winfield must provide veteran leadership to an ultra-young unit, even as his workload figures to be reduced. It means third-year cornerback Chris Cook has to become a consistent playmaker. It means veterans Chris Carr and Zack Bowman will battle to climb the depth chart and make the team. And it means rookies Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson and Robert Blanton will be given every opportunity to learn and contribute as quickly as possible.

2 MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER

The Vikings fell in love with Harrison Smith (right) at the Senior Bowl, where the safety from Notre Dame showcased outstanding range, great feel for the game and an urge to get better. The expectation is that Smith will start right away and hopefully emerge as a conductor on the back end. Heading into April's draft, General Manager Rick Spielman went down the checklist of qualities he values in his safeties -- intelligence, toughness, instincts, leadership ability -- and found all of them in Smith.

3 THE PRESSURE'S ON ...

Jasper Brinkley. The Vikings entered the offseason with high hopes Brinkley would be their starting middle linebacker. But after he missed the entire 2011 season because of a hip injury, his durability remained a concern during organized team activities and minicamp when he was sidelined due to a groin ailment. With the linebacking corps low on quality depth, Brinkley's training camp progress will be monitored closely.

4 FUN TO WATCH

Jared Allen vs. Matt Kalil. The Vikings' pass-rushing superstar will spend chunks of camp battling the team's prized rookie tackle. Think Godzilla vs. King Kong. Combined, Allen and Kalil are 13 feet, 1 inch tall and 578 pounds.

5 BREAKTHROUGH POTENTIAL

Guarantee: Defensive lineman D'Aundre Reed will play much more in 2012 than he did as a rookie when he was on the game-day inactive list 16 times. The Vikings' hope: Reed's energy, versatility and rapid offseason growth enable him to emerge this fall as a dependable rotational player with a bright future.

DAN WIEDERER

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