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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

A look at the linebackers heading into Vikings training camp

Leading up to the start of training camp on Friday, we will set the stage for Vikings camp by taking a look at where things stand at each position group. Today, we sort through a deep group of Vikings linebackers.

A QUICK REFRESHER: In the offseason, the Vikings and Chad Greenway agreed to a deal that would keep the veteran outside linebacker in purple for his 11th and likely final NFL season. But they also signed a threat to his playing time in former Bengals outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who played for coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. In addition to Lamur, the Vikings re-signed Audie Cole to a one-year contract with no guarantees and drafted undersized linebacker Kentrell Brothers in the fifth round.

HOT CAMP STORYLINE: Third-year outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who in 2015 was named to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement, sat out most of the spring with an undisclosed injury. He was healthy enough to participate in individual drills during last month’s minicamp, a sign he will be ready to roll for Friday’s first practice. Barr missed most of spring workouts in 2015, too, due to an injury and still delivered a strong season. Maybe that’s why Zimmer didn’t seem concerned about Barr this spring.

TOP BATTLE TO WATCH: Greenway lined up with the first-team defense at his usual weak-side linebacker spot this spring and presumably didn’t re-sign with the team to ride the bench. But it is worth noting that only $750,000 of his one-year deal is guaranteed while Lamur got $2 million guaranteed in his two-year contract. Before Greenway agreed to return, Zimmer said publicly that he thought Greenway could still play. But if the 33-year-old shows signs of significant slippage during the next several weeks and Lamur looks good, perhaps the Vikings will make the switch.

POSSIBLY IN DANGER: In Zimmer’s three years in Minnesota, the Vikings have drafted five linebackers, and that depth was one of the reasons they surprisingly traded away Gerald Hodges during the 2015 season. But after bringing back Greenway and adding Lamur, the Vikings will likely have to say goodbye to at least a couple young linebackers, who include Brothers, Cole, 2014 draft pick Brandon Watts and 2015 pick Edmond Robinson. Brothers, who just got drafted, and Robinson, who this spring got the nod at strong-side linebacker with Barr sidelined, seem like pretty good bets to make the team. That would mean that Cole and Watts would be goners unless somebody gets hurt or the Vikings keep seven linebackers.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Kendricks, a 2015 second-round pick, showed Zimmer enough early in his rookie season to be given the starting middle linebacker gig. He would go on to lead the Vikings with 92 tackles while also tallying four sacks. Kendricks was inconsistent in coverage, but he is quick, instinctive and his great balance helps him make up for a lack of ideal height, which leads one to believe he will become a plus player in coverage sooner than later. That potential to make plays all over the field could help Kendricks become one of the NFL’s leading tacklers.

EARLY ROSTER BREAKDOWN:

  • On the 90-man roster: 9
  • Projected to make the 53-man: 6-7
  • Roster locks: 4 (Barr, Greenway, Kendricks, Lamur)
  • Good bets: 2 (Brothers, Robinson)
  • On the bubble: 2 (Cole, Watts)
  • Longshots: 1 (Jake Ganus)

A look at the defensive line heading into Vikings training camp

Leading up to the start of training camp on Friday, we will set the stage for Vikings camp by taking a look at where things stand at each position group. Today, we examine the defensive tackles and defensive ends.

A QUICK REFRESHER: Unless you got really fired up about the Vikings signing undrafted rookies Theiren Cockran and Denzell Perine, there was not much excitement when it comes to the offseason moves along the defensive line. And that’s OK. The Vikings already have the NFC North’s deepest and most talented defensive line. They return defensive ends Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter, along with defensive tackles Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd and Tom Johnson. If they can remain healthy, those six will likely get most of the snaps. But there still two or three other roster spots that will be up for grabs down in Mankato.

HOT CAMP STORYLINE: Will Joseph be ready to go at the start of camp? The big nose tackle was having a great 2015 season before suffering a toe injury in late November. He missed a few games and wasn’t quite himself when he returned. He underwent toe surgery in the offseason and was able to participate in some individual drills in spring workouts. We will see on Friday if Joseph is a full-go or will start training camp on the PUP list.

TOP BATTLE TO WATCH: The youngest player in the NFL last season, Hunter impressed as a rookie by totaling six sacks, second on the team behind Griffen, the Pro Bowler. It will be interesting to see if he is given a legitimate chance to unseat Robison, the longtime starter at left end. This spring, Robison was with the starters in the base defense. But if Hunter continues his ascension, he will get more snaps at the expense of Robison, though both figure to get plenty of work in Mike Zimmer’s rotation.

POSSIBLY IN DANGER: In 2014, Zimmer’s first season here, the Vikings drafted Scott Crichton in the third round in the hopes of him becoming Robison’s eventual replacement. But he played sparingly in his first two NFL seasons, recording 10 tackles and not a single sack in 21 career games. It is still too soon to label Crichton a bust or write him off. But it is also fair to wonder if he will still be on the squad six weeks from now.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Hunter, an impressive athlete with long arms and a quick burst, is an obvious candidate to break out. But allow me to submit a defender who has been a starter each of the past two seasons: Sharrif Floyd. In his first three years in the NFL, Floyd flashed when healthy. Unfortunately, it seems something is always nagging him, as was the case again for most of this spring, when he was sidelined with an undisclosed injury. If Floyd can find a way to play all 16 games at relatively full health, he could become one of the NFL’s top 4-3 defensive tackles.

EARLY ROSTER BREAKDOWN:

  • On the 90-man roster: 8 defensive ends and 8 defensive tackles
  • Projected to make the 53-man: 4-5 ends and 4-5 tackles
  • Roster locks: 5 (Griffen, Hunter, Floyd, Johnson, Joseph)
  • Good bets: 1 (Robison)
  • On the bubble: 6 (Crichton, DE Justin Trattou, DE Stephen Weatherly, DE Zach Moore, DT Kenrick Ellis, DT Shamar Stephen)
  • Longshots: 4 (Perine, Cockran, DT Travis Raciti, DT Toby Johnson)
  • Injured reserve: 1 (DT B.J. Dubose)

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