Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


From 90 to 53: As practice begins, Vikings' roster and depth chart will take shape

Posted by: under Quarterbacks, Rookies, Vikings, Leslie Frazier, Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Brian Robison, Chad Greenway, Chris Kluwe, Jared Allen, John Sullivan, Kevin Williams, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Ryan Longwell, Sage Rosenfels Updated: July 27, 2012 - 8:03 AM

Aaaaand …. here we go! In many ways, the Vikings 2012 season officially gets underway today – first training camp walkthrough at 10:30 a.m., first practice at 2:45 in Mankato. And yes we know a lot can and will happen between now and Sept. 9, the day the Vikings open the regular season at home against Jacksonville. But taking the 90 players currently on the roster, here is our very early position-by-position breakdown to help you understand the personnel dynamics and guess which 53 players will make the team for the season opener.

QUARTERBACKS
Currently on roster: 4
Likely to make opening day roster: 3
Certain to make the team: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels
Camp depth and nothing more: McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Comment: It would take a significant injury or some other kind of unforeseen twist for the Vikings’ current quarterback depth chart to change. Unless he tries to throw lefty, Ponder is the undisputed 2012 starter with the team confident in Webb’s abilities as a backup. Rosenfels, a favorite of general manager Rick Spielman, should be secure in the No. 3 slot, capable of lending veteran guidance at practice and in the classroom. The stage is now Ponder’s to prove that his offseason time investment in getting better, in learning the offense, in jelling with teammates has paid off.
 
RUNNING BACKS
Currently on roster: 8
Likely to make opening day roster: 4
Certain to make the team: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart
On the bubble: Jordan Todman, Jerome Felton, Ryan D’Imperio
On the outside looking in: Lex Hilliard, Matt Asiata
Camp depth and nothing more: Derrick Coleman
Comment: Peterson’s continued recovery from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last December will be monitored closely throughout camp. He will likely start camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. But how long will the Vikings keep him there? Todman’s burst and upside are intriguing and make him the frontrunner as the No. 3 back. At fullback, the Felton-D’Imperio battle will be interesting. D’Imperio’s special teams skills could be enough to keep him around.  
 
RECEIVERS
Currently on roster: 12
Likely to make opening day roster: 5
Certain to make the team: Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright
On the bubble: Michael Jenkins, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Devin Aromashodu
On the outside looking in: Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Walters, Kerry Taylor
Camp depth and nothing more: Kamer Jordan, A.J. Love
Comment: Simpson may be a fantastic addition to the offense but will be suspended by the NFL for the first three regular season games. That will leave the Vikings with some tough decisions on how to compensate at the position for that early stretch. Jenkins, now 30 and due to make $2.5 million in each of the next two seasons, might not fit entirely with the Vikings’ youth movement but could also provide the veteran dependability Ponder needs. Especially early in the season as the second-year quarterback tries to build confidence. So Jenkins’ camp performance will be intriguing. Burton has thoroughly impressed the coaching staff throughout the offseason and is currently a safe bet to make the team. Childs’ health is a concern. (A calf strain bothered him in the offseason. And a lingering knee injury has kept the rookie from flourishing since early in his 2010 season at Arkansas.)  Aromashodu is a wild card, athletic, selfless and hard-working enough to keep you intrigued but never consistently productive enough to excel. 
 
TIGHT ENDS
Currently on roster: 5
Likely to make opening day roster: 4
Certain to make the team: John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison
On the bubble: Mickey Shuler, Allen Reisner
Comment: Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave needs reliable tight ends to squeeze the maximum potential out of his attack. The Carlson-Rudolph tandem could prove dynamic. Ellison is being molded into the role Jimmy Kleinsasser mastered for 13 seasons. Shuler and Reisner will fight for a chance to stick around.
 
OFFENSIVE LINE
Currently on roster: 15
Likely to make opening day roster: 9
Certain to make the team: Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, Charlie Johnson, Phil Loadholt, Brandon Fusco, Geoff Schwartz
On the bubble: Pat Brown, Joe Berger, Levi Horn, Chris DeGeare, DeMarcus Love
Camp depth and nothing more: Kevin Murphy, Tyler Holmes, Austin Pasztor, Quentin Saulsberry
Comment: Crazy as it may sound after last year’s o-line shortcomings, general manager Rick Spielman is feeling pretty good about the way this year’s line is taking shape. Much of that has to do with the addition of Kalil, which gives Johnson a chance to be more successful inside at left guard. Everyone within the organization lauds the continued development of Sullivan. And Fusco’s fearlessness and adaptability has also drawn raves. But what’s next for Loadholt, entering the final year of his rookie contract and needing to show marked improvement? Keep an eye on that. Also, that on-the-bubble crop of Brown, Berger, Horn, DeGeare and Love will face intense pressure to perform in camp. Two of them will likely be shown the door by opening day.
 
DEFENSIVE LINE
Currently on roster: 16
Likely to make opening day roster: 9
Certain to make the team: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Letroy Guion, Christian Ballard, D’Aundre Reed, Fred Evans
On the bubble: Trevor Guyton, Jeff Charleston
On the outside looking in: Tydreke Powell
Camp depth and nothing more: Eric Latimore, Chase Baker, Anthony Jacobs, Ernest Owusu, Nick Reed
Comment: A front four of Allen, Williams, Guion and Robison is pretty impressive. Griffen may soon make a conversion to linebacker. Ballard and D’Aundre Reed, meanwhile, were lost-in-the-shuffle rookies in 2011; Reed was never even active on game day. But both players have been openly lauded this offseason by Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier for their impressive growth. Charleston? He’s entering his seventh NFL season with his fourth team. But he was signed by the Vikings in late-June and feels like he may have found an ideal situation to showcase his talents. Powell was an undrafted free agent that the Vikings plucked immediately after April’s draft, intrigued by his size (6-foot-3, 325 pounds) and strength and curious as to whether he can eventually be a reliable rotational tackle despite his athletic shortcomings.
 
LINEBACKERS
Currently on roster: 10
Likely to make opening day roster: 6
Certain to make the team: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley
On the bubble: Marvin Mitchell, Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie, Solomon Elimimian, Tyler Nielsen
On the outside looking in: Larry Dean, Corey Paredes
Comment: This is the position of concern heading into camp, the Vikings not yet convinced that they have enough quality depth. Brinkley, who missed all of 2011 after hip surgery and was limited during the offseason with a groin problem, needs to quickly prove that his health won’t be an ongoing worry. Henderson, meanwhile, will be given every opportunity in 2012 to prove he’s a playmaker on the rise as he firmly believes he is. The coaching staff fell in love with Cole at the Senior Bowl in January, impressed with his passion for the game. Elimimian comes from the CFL and has a reputation for delivering big hits even though he’s a bit undersized. Mitchell may be the safest Plan B at middle linebacker if Brinkley gets hurt or slides out of favor. McKenzie could also challenge there.
 
CORNERBACKS
Currently on roster: 11
Likely to make opening day roster: 6
Certain to make the team: Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Chris Carr
On the bubble: Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels
On the outside looking in: Reggie Jones
Camp depth and nothing more: Bobby Felder, Corey Gatewood, Nick Taylor
Comment: The Vikings are a long way from solidifying things at corner. But for the first time in a long time, they have plenty of depth which will create some superb camp competition. The door has been kicked open for Cook to become the unit’s star. Winfield, by far the most experienced and dependable corner on the team, will need to have a bounce-back year after injuries cost him 11 games in 2011. But the 14th-year vet will likely see his playing time reduced as his odometer continues to climb. That means there’s an immediate opportunity for Carr to land a major role. That would give the Vikings the luxury of bringing Robinson along slowly. The rookie out of Central Florida is raw but blessed with speed and plenty of upside but admits himself that he needs to be much more consistent to prove himself on this level. Sherels’ ticket to sticking around may require him to showcase his worth as a punt returner. Bowman, too, will have to use his special teams ability to his advantage.
 
SAFETIES
Currently on roster: 6
Likely to make opening day roster: 4
Certain to make the team: Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford
On the bubble: Eric Frampton
On the outside looking in: Andrew Sendejo
Comment: Sanford started 15 games last season but the hope is to slide him into a reserve role while still utilizing his abilities on special teams. Smith will start from the get-go and Raymond could be ready to take a big step forward in his second season, in line to be other other safety starter on opening day. Don’t forget, Raymond came out of college as a cornerback who was converted to safety, the same transition that the Vikings will ask Blanton to make. Blanton has incredible upside and could challenge for a starting role before long. So much depends on how fast he can pick up the nuances at safety and learn the responsibilities in the Vikings’ schemes.
 
SPECIALISTS
Currently on roster: 3
Likely to make opening day roster: 3
Certain to make the team: Chris Kluwe, Blair Walsh, Cullen Loeffler
Comment: Welcome to the era of “The Blair Walsh Project.” Yep, we’re getting that one out of the way early and promising not to use it after camp. Special teams coach Mike Priefer loves Walsh’s deportment and raves about his ability to go deep on kickoffs. Now the rookie out of Georgia will have to find a way to improve his accuracy by polishing his technique and heeding Priefer’s demands to slow down his approach a little on field goal attempts. Still, the Vikings liked Walsh enough to use a sixth-round draft pick on him while later cutting Ryan Longwell loose. Kluwe and Loeffler? No worries there. Both are hard-working veterans you can set your watch by.
 

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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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