The Vikings are getting closer to playing football. Training camp ramps up next week with the start of full practices, which can begin Wednesday. Until then, we’ll preview the key points at each position every day. Practices in full pads start Aug. 17.
SLB Anthony Barr, MLB Eric Kendricks, WLB Eric Wilson, WLB Ben Gedeon, Troy Dye, Jordan Fehr, DeMarquis Gates, Blake Lynch, Quentin Poling. Injured Reserve: Cameron Smith
In: Dye (fourth-round pick), Fehr (undrafted), Gates (street free agent/XFL contract terminated), Lynch (undrafted)
Out: Kentrell Brothers (free agent)
Kendricks, the best middle linebacker in football last season, and Barr, a four-time Pro Bowl pick, head into their sixth NFL season as the duo of trusted three-down backers in Mike Zimmer’s defense. And they’re still only 28. With Gedeon missing half of the 2019 season because of concussions and entering 2020 on the physically unable to perform list, the weak-side position in the base defense belongs to Wilson, a versatile overachiever who has grown from an undersized rookie free agent in 2017 to reliable backup and special teams leader to someone who more than held his own while starting six games last season. An already-green list of potential backups was dealt a blow Saturday when second-year middle linebacker Cameron Smith announced that he needs open heart surgery and will miss the 2020 season. While testing positive for COVID-19, Smith also discovered he has an enlarged heart caused by a birth defect. Smith played in five games last season. The Vikings filled his roster spot by signing Quentin Poling, a seventh-round pick of the Dolphins in 2018. Poling, who also has spent time with the Raiders and Falcons, has played in only one NFL game. He had five special teams snaps while with the Raiders last year. There are four other potential backups. Dye, Fehr and Lynch are rookies while Gates hasn’t played a regular season game since being undrafted in 2018. Dye, a fourth-round pick, has position flexibility and the distinction of being the only player to lead Oregon in tackles four straight years. Gates is a journeyman who has spent time with Cleveland and Washington of the NFL, Memphis of the Alliance of American Football and the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL, which folded due to COVID-19. Lynch also is an interesting athlete having played five positions – linebacker, cornerback, safety, receiver and running back – in 32 starts at Baylor.
With Gedeon on PUP and his career up in the air, the top competition will be among the young backups. The Vikings like the talent they have but they can’t keep them all. How they perform on special teams in practice will weigh heavily in which ones make the team. Dye would appear to have an edge as a fourth-round draft pick.
Player to watch
Barr. The question isn’t whether he’s good. For most fans, it’s why isn’t he better? Or why doesn’t this Pro Bowl player so well-schooled in this defense do what Kendricks has done and reach an All-Pro level? Zimmer loves the guy and argues that Barr’s sparsity of SportsCenter highlights is due to the fact he plays within a 4-3 scheme that doesn’t tolerate freelancers. Hiring Dom Capers, a longtime disciple of 3-4 defense, as a consultant was an indication that Zimmer wants to explore different ways to enhance Barr’s big-play potential. The Jets envisioned Barr’s skillset as a natural fit for the 3-4 when they signed him during the 2019 free-agency period. Barr ended up backing out of the deal and returning to the Vikings for less money.
12 passes defensed. That’s how many Kendricks had last season. So in addition to becoming the first player in franchise history to lead the team in tackles in each of his first five seasons, Kendricks also led the team and all NFL linebackers in passes defensed. “I actually learn coverage technique watching him play,” Vikings safety Anthony Harris said last fall. “I’m watching him and I’m like, ‘Is this guy a DB or a linebacker?’”