Linebacker Desmond Bishop arrives in Mankato with so much to learn. New teammates, new coaches, new system. It's not only that Bishop is one of 32 Vikings currently under contract who wasn't with the organization last season, it's that he missed all of 2012 because of a torn hamstring and didn't sign with the Vikings until June 24 — after the team's entire offseason program had finished. At full strength in 2011, Bishop flourished at inside linebacker in Green Bay, displaying a promising combination of instinct and toughness while recording 115 tackles and five sacks. But his head figures to be spinning in the early days of camp as a flood of new information comes his way. After so much lost time due to injury, cleaning away the rust will take time. Assimilating into a new environment will add to the challenge.
TIME TO PROVE IT
Knee injuries as a rookie in 2010. Off-the-field legal issues in 2011. A broken arm last fall. Cornerback Chris Cook has missed more regular season games (26) than he has played (22). And the number 26 has further significance to Cook as well. That was the jersey number worn by Antoine Winfield, whose surprise release in March not only shook up the secondary but also left Cook — at 26 years old and with 18 career starts — as the oldest and most experienced cornerback on the roster. Cook said it won't be easy for the Vikings to replace "such a living legend in all of football" and understands the demands on him have heightened. "Coach Frazier has talked to me about my leadership role growing," Cook said. "I'm accepting it. I was a captain in college. This is just the next step."
The Vikings drafted four defenders in April, nabbing a pair of first-rounders in Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes. Floyd's quickness off the ball, agility and overall balance are all NFL ready. And while he will split time at under tackle with 11th-year vet Kevin Williams, Floyd's immediate future still appears bright. Rhodes, meanwhile, will have every opportunity to become an opening day starter, a physical and quick cornerback who should give the Vikings more opportunity to mix in press coverage. Linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges likely sill begin as special teamers but both are potential future starters — Mauti in the middle and Hodges outside. Seventh-round pick Everett Dawkins, a quick but undersized tackle, faces an uphill battle to make the roster on a defensive line loaded with depth.
In Year 2 with the Vikings, Alan Williams must quickly find a way to create both stability and harmony in his linebacking corps. Williams certainly will give Bishop a look as his possible starter at middle linebacker. But in doing so, he'll have to keep a pulse on the mood of Erin Henderson, who occupied that position throughout Organized Team Activities and minicamp and has continually insisted he's ready to be the full-time anchor in the middle. For Williams, solving the Bishop-Henderson puzzle won't be easy, especially with Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wanting a galvanizing leader in the middle.
The friendly yet intense competition at safety could be one of the most entertaining camp storylines as Harrison Smith looks for a right-hand man to start alongside him. Jamarca Sanford is the incumbent, coming off a surprising 2012 ascension in which he displayed passion, tenacity and toughness, enough to earn a new two-year, $5 million deal. But Sanford will have to fend off both Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton to retain his starting role. Internally, the Vikings have high hopes that Blanton, a fifth-round pick last year, is ready for his breakthrough.