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Cutting corners will be tougher in this year's secondary

  • Blog Post by: Mark Craig
  • August 4, 2012 - 1:40 PM

MANKATO -- The first full week of training camp ends with a two-hour controlled scrimmage at 7 tonight at Blakeslee Stadium. Here's what we've learned and what needs to happen:

Quarterbacks

What we've learned: After being asked 15,679 times whether having a true offseason made a difference in the progress from his rookie season, starting quarterback Christian Ponder should be allowed to smack the 15,680th person who asks this question. Let's move on, folks. Said receiver Percy Harvin: "The difference is huge. His progressions, reading defenses and confidence level has been like night and day. He believes in himself this year."

What needs to happen: Coming off a shaky week, at best, Joe Webb needs to re-instill the confidence around him that's expected when one is the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback. When asked about Webb's inconsistency and inaccuracy,  offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said: "Joe is always going to look better in games than he will in practice at this stage in his career."

Running backs

What we've learned: Toby Gerhart's added upper-body mass makes him an even bigger load in short-yardage situations. As cornerback Chris Cook said on the field seconds after trying and failing to stop Gerhart in a goal-line drill: "Man, you gotta get low if you want to stop Toby's big" um, butt.

What needs to happen: Second-year pro Jordan Todman needs to return from an ankle injury that's knocked him out the past two practices. He's the ideal change-of-pace back with speed and quickness that no other back on the roster, except Adrian Peterson, possesses. But each missed practice helps kill Todman's chances of closing the gap on veteran Lex Hilliard in the battle for the No. 3 running back job. Hilliard leads based on his four years of special teams experience in Miami.

Offensive line

What we've learned: A sports hernia suffered by Geoff Schwartz essentially ended the right guard competition before it had a chance to start. Schwartz declined comment after this morning's walkthrough, citing the team's policy on injured players talking to the media, but he could be out four to six weeks or longer. With injuries mounting on the offensive line, the Vikings added two undrafted rookie guards: Bridger Buche of Eastern Michigan and Grant Cook, a 6-4, 318-pounder who was released by the Packers last week. Defensive lineman Eric Latimore and receiver A.J. Love were released to make room for the O-line reinforcements. We've also learned that left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick, can handle himself in the NFL

What needs to happen: Someone other than Chris DeGeare needs to step up as the No. 2 right guard. DeGeare and veteran Joe Berger can play the position, but it's better if DeGeare focuses on backing up the left guard position, while Berger sticks to backup center. Undrafted rookie free agent Quentin Saulsberry, the only player to start and play in every game (49) at Mississippi State, is a longshot to watch.

Tight ends/receivers

What we've learned: Kyle Rudolph will be a popular target for Ponder in this offense. The second-year tight end has had an excellent camp and will benefit underneath if receiver Jerome Simpson lives up to his potential as a deep threat. Simpson was the camp star of Week 1. "He's just fast," said left guard Charlie Johnson.

What needs to happen: Someone other than Simpson and Harvin has to start standing out consistenty at receiver ASAP, especially with Simpson having to start the regular season with a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Rookie Greg Childs has shown the most raw talent and made the play of the week -- a 26-yard touchdown in which he outjumped cornerback Brandon Burton and caught the ball by pinning it to the Burton's back.

Defensive line

What we've learned: The team, as usual the past few years, has some impressive depth. That includes some classic edge rushers such as D'Aundre Reed showing that he can also rush from the tackle position in passing situations. If Reed, who was inactive for all 16 games a year ago, can rush from the tackle position like he has in some camp situations so far, the Vikings' pass rush will be even more formidable than it was a year ago when it led the league with 50 sacks.

What needs to happen: Letroy Guion needs some preseason action to prove that he can handle the move from under tackle backup behind Kevin Williams to playing nose tackle at a relatively light 303 pounds. If he doesn't have the bulk, can he make up for it with quickness? Said Allen: "Letroy has feet like no other."

Linebackers

What we've learned: Griffen is wildly talented and can play multiple defensive positions as well as stand out on special teams. However, the switch to linebacker won't be successful after just a week or two of focusing on the position. He's flashed in camp, but he's also been inconsistent while running with the third team.

What needs to happen: Like Guion, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley just needs some actual game experience to show that he's ready to assume former Viking E.J. Henderson's old position. For what it's worth, Brinkley has not shown signs of the injuries that have plagued him for most of the past year. He missed all of last season because of hip surgery and then missed a lot of OTA and mini-camp time because of a combination of hip and groin issues.

Defensive backs

What we've learned: These aren't your 2011 Vikings secondary. This outfit looks NFL worthy and then some so far. Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield are back and looking strong. Chris Carr has been a solid third corner, if not a capable No. 2 if the Vikings want to limit the 35-year-old Winfield to the nickel back role. Josh Robinson is a lock to make the team, but the third-round draft pick lost a lot of ground by missing seven practices because of a hamstring injury. 

What needs to happen: Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said the team is likely to keep either five or six corners. If veteran Zack Bowman makes the team, as expected, the pressure mounts on the lower-tier guys such as Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels and Reggie Jones. One of them needs to shine like Sherels did during last year's preseason in order to make the team.

Special teams

What we've learned: As advertised, rookie kicker Blair Walsh has a giant leg. He's been booming kickoffs out of the end zone.

What needs to happen: Walsh needs to face the pressure of a field goal attempt that means more than ending a training camp practice. So far, he's handled that minimal pressure well. 

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