By Jason Wisniewski
Coming off of a spirited inter team scrimmage Saturday night, the Minnesota Vikings will have a day off and will then start preparing for another set of 4 “scrimmages” when they play their Preseason games. The difference of course will be that the Vikings will have opponents other than themselves in these games as Coaches evaluate their 90 man rosters and try to pick the best 53 men that will make the final cut as well as establish a 10 man practice squad to back them up during the season. Let’s take a look at the state of the Vikings right now, get caught up with the latest news and preview some position battles that have yet to be determined.
Team News & Injury Updates
- The Vikings signed OL Tyler Catalina, 26 year old 3rd year pro who has appeared in 7 career games with 2 career starts. He played with the Redskins when Kirk Cousins was there in 2017. Catalina is trying to make the team as a backup OL who can play Guard or Tackle.
- The Vikings signed veteran CB Bene Benwikere. Benwikere is a 27 year old 6th year pro who has appeared in 54 games with 22 career starts. The Vikings needed to bolster their CB depth behind their top 3 CBs with Mike Hughes still rehabbing a torn ACL and ligament damage and Holton Hill suspended for the first 8 games.
- PUP players= CB Mike Hughes, TE David Morgan
- Non Football Injury List= DE Tashawn Bower
It appears that T/G Aviante Collins has avoided serious injury as he was seen at the Vikings team scrimmage walking around. DL Jalyn Holmes injury also does not appear to be serious. NT Linval Joseph is getting closer to being a full go at practice and DT Shemar Stephen was taken off of the Non Football Injury list. Hughes & Morgan continue to rehab from their injuries with Morgan expected back before Hughes who may miss the first few games of the regular season.
Kirk Cousins is the obvious starter and he’s having an outstanding camp thus far but the battle for the backup job behind him is not yet settled. Sean Mannion has gotten the majority of the 2nd team reps at QB and has had his ups and downs but has shown he has the firmest grip of the offense behind Cousins and has also flashed a pretty deep ball and has been fairly accurate. He’ll need to a little better job protecting the football though as he’s thrown some interceptions in camp. Kyle Sloter seems to perform better in games than in practice. He’s struggled with inconsistent accuracy in camp but still flashed big play ability with a strong arm and great mobility. If he can play better in preseason and avoid issues with his accuracy he’s got a shot to unseat Mannion but he’s a little behind Mannion at this point in time. UDFA Jake Browning has surprisingly made very few mistakes. His arm strength has been better than expected and he’s showing some nice touch on his passes as well. A year on the practice squad is likely in the cards for Browning if he doesn’t win the backup job because being a rookie UDFA at QB in the NFL can be a pretty big jump from the competition in college and Browning has been working primarily against 3rd and 4th team defenses. It’s possible the Vikings will roster 2 or 3 QBs depending on what they want to do and how impressive the players are in pre season.
Obviously the top 2 WRs will be Stefon Diggs & Adam Thielen but there are battles going for the rest of the spots. The Vikings will likely keep at least 5 and possibly 6 WRs on the 53 man roster which leaves 2-3 spots open for the roster. Chad Beebe is leading the way right now for the WR3 spot and if he can continue to stay on the same track he should lock that up. Jordan Taylor is currently the front runner to split WR3 reps with Beebe and be the defacto WR4 as he knows the system best. Giving him some competition in the “big” WR role are Brandon Zylstra who recently returned to action from the PUP and has been playing well and former 1st rd pick Laquon Treadwell who is in the final year of his rookie contract who’s having a decent camp. The Vikings will probably want to keep 1 more “speed guy” and there are plenty of choices. Jeff Badet is a pure burner who has recently returned to action and flashed in the scrimmage game with some impressive catches and route running. Dillon Mitchell & Bisi Johnson both 7th rd draft picks have had their moments and are also in the mix as return men. UDFA’s Davion Davis & Alexander Hollins are also in the mix. The Vikings could also decide to keep a couple of these players that don’t make the roster as party of their practice squad. Hollins, Davis, Badet, Zylstra, Mitchell & Johnson would all be eligible for the practice squad.
Dalvin Cook is the unquestioned starter at RB and Alexander Mattison has all but sewn up the RB2 spot with a very impressive camp that has turned the heads of Zimmer, Stefanski & Kubiak. The game is not too big for him and he’s caught on very quick. Behind them Ameer Abdullah has made a strong case to be RB3 as he has done a nice job in blitz pickups in the passing game and is also in the lead for the starting KR spot. I’d say he probably has an 80-90% chance of making the roster. It is possible the Vikings will keep 4 halfbacks so don’t count out Mike Boone or De’Angelo Henderson who both flashed in the scrimmage. Both are speedy RBs who can catch and the one who is best on blitz pickups and special teams could have a chance to be RB4 should the Vikings keep 4 halfbacks. I also wouldn’t rule either one of them out for a practice squad spot of which both are eligible for.
At FB CJ Ham is the starter but Khari Blasingame has shown enough to be considered for the practice squad. The staff really likes him. He’s basically a carbon copy of Ham with less experience.
Kyle Rudolph is the starter and is having a great camp. He also looks like he has lost some weight and looks faster this season which bodes well for the Vikings passing game. 2nd rd draft pick Irv Smith JR has gotten the most reps as TE2 and figures to lock that up. 2nd year pro Tyler Conklin is having a great camp and has rotated in some TE2 reps with Smith JR. The Vikings are likely going to keep 4 TEs on the roster this season with the added emphasis in 2 TE sets. Once David Morgan returns from the PUP the Vikings will have their top 4 TEs. UDFA Brandon Dillon & 3rd year pro Cole Hikutini are both practice squad eligible and have flashed in camp as well so the Vikings could very well sign one of them to the practice squad should they clear waivers.
The starters are almost certainly set on the OL. From left to right it will be Riley Reiff/Pat Elflein/Garrett Bradbury/Josh Kline/Brian O’Neill. The Vikings will likely keep 8 or 9 O-lineman on the final 53 man roster so that leaves 3-4 backup spots up for grabs. Aviante Collins is in the mix with his ability to play Tackle or Guard and he was taking 2nd team reps at LT. Rashod Hill is the incumbent swing tackle and took 2nd team reps at RT. Veteran Brett Jones is the top backup at Center and has a very good chance to make the roster. Rookie 4th rd pick Dru Samia has a high ceiling and is likely to make it on potential. If the Vikings go with 9 O-lineman those could very well be the 4 backups. Also in the mix competing for spots are Veteran Guard Dakota Dozier who knows the system well, Guard Danny Isidora who’s having a pretty good camp thus far, Center Cornelius Edison, UDFA Guard John Keenoy, Tackles Storm Norton & 6th rd rookie Oli Udoh as well as T/G Tyler Catalina. Udoh, Catalina, Keenoy, Norton & Edison are practice squad eligible.
The starters are set with Everson Griffen & Daniell Hunter as the bookend DEs and Shemar Stephen & Linval Joseph manning the middle. Behind them is clear cut DE3 Stephen Weatherly & Reserve NT Jaleel Johnson. Those guys make 6 and the Vikings will likely keep 9 total so there are probably 3 more spots up for grabs. Candidates include DE Ifaedhi Odenigbo who has a shot to sew up the DE4 spot with Tashawn Bower likely to miss the entire season. Jalyn Holmes & Hercules Mata’afa have gotten plenty of time rotating at backup 3 tech so my guess is that those 2 will round out the D-line. Practice squad eligible players also in the mix include rookie DT Armon Watts, DT Curtis Cothran & Backup DE Ade Aruna who is in his 2nd season returning from a season ending injury last year. DE Karter Schult & UDFA Anree Saint Armour are considered longshots.
Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks & Ben Gedeon are poised to be the starters in the Vikings base 4-3 defense with Eric Wilson as the top sub LB off the bench who can play all 3 LB positions. Behind those 4 there are likely 2 more open spots for the roster. Candidates include Kentrell Brothers who is in the final year of his rookie deal, Rookie 5th rd pick Cameron Smith who has looked pretty good thus far, 2nd year pro Devante Downs who made the roster last season, Rashard Cliett & Greer Martini. Downs, Smith, Cliett & Martini are all practice squad eligible.
Xavier Rhodes & Trae Waynes are the starters on the outside & Mackensie Alexander is the starter at Nickel CB. The Vikings CB depth will get a boost when both Mike Hughes & Holton Hill return but for the immediate future the depth will rely on other players as Hill is suspended for 8 games and Hughes looks like he could miss several games as well. Newly acquired veteran Free Agent Bene Benwikere figures to be the top CB off the bench during this time and rookie 7th rd pick Kris Boyd is ahead of the rest of the bunch. Also in the mix are Craig James who made the roster last season as well as UDFAs Nate Meadors and ex AAF player Duke Thomas. The Vikings could wind up carrying anywhere from 6-7 CBs on the roster out of necessity this season. James, Meadors, Thomas & Boyd are all practice squad eligible.
Harrison Smith & Anthony Harris will be the starters with Jayron Kearse being the top backup who also doubles as a CB in the Vikings “Big Nickel” packages. 6th rd rookie Marcus Epps has flashed in camp and has also excelled as a backup Nickel CB and that increases his chances of making the roster as the 4th Safety. Derron Smith is also in the mix for the 4th safety spot and the Vikings also have UDFAs Micah Abernathy & Isaiah Wharton who are both practice squad eligible competing as well.
It is a battle between incumbent veteran Kevin McDermott & 7th rd rookie Austin Cutting. It’s hard to envision anything other than Cutting winning this battle since the Vikings spent a draft pick on him and he is a less expensive option than McDermott. Cutting would have to absolutely bomb out to lose this job in my opinion.
RB Ameer Abdullah is in the lead for the KR spot & WR Chad Beebe is in the lead for the PR spot. CB Holton Hill has backed up at both KR & PR and WR Jordan Taylor has been the primary backup PR. 7th rd rookie WR Bisi Johnson and 2nd year WR Jeff Badet have also gotten some run as return men.
State of the Vikings
The Vikings are about to enter the preseason and they have to feel pretty good about where they are at thus far. The offense has clearly made strides from a year ago with the fusion of Kevin Stefanski & Gary Kubiak clearly being a better fit for their players than what John DeFillipo was running last season. The offense is more balanced and more unpredictable and the big explosive plays have been much more plentiful in camp. QB Kirk Cousins looks more comfortable and more confident in his 2nd year with the team and running an offense more suited to his strengths. Cousins is also giving defenses something else to think about by running more and making improvisational plays that have made the offense more difficult to defend. The offensive line is improved with the additions of 1st rd pick Garrett Bradbury & Free Agent Josh Kline. Also helping is the growth of 2nd year pro RT Brian O’Neill and LG Pat Elflein returning to full strength. The unit looks head and shoulders above what the Vikings put out there last season in both the run game & passing game and the new zone scheme is highlighting their best traits. Running backs Dalvin Cook & Alexander Mattison look to form a dynamic 1-2 punch with each of them having outstanding camps thus far. It’s possible that Diggs & Thielen might even be better than they were last season which is scary for opposing defenses. They have made play after play after play in camp thus far and Cousins chemistry with them is off the charts. Cousins has improved chemistry with TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Chad Beebe and is also establishing it with TEs Irv Smith JR & Tyler Conklin.
On defense the Vikings have been without their starting DTs for most of camp but that figures to change as Stephen is now back and Joseph is getting ready to return. The DEs have have been great though with Everson Griffen looking like his old self and Danielle Hunter in his prime wreaking havoc from the edges. Stephen Weatherly also is looking good and looking to build on his breakout season last year. CB Xavier Rhodes looks lighter than he did last season and is looking to bounce back to try and be the shutdown CB he was in 2017. Trae Waynes will man the other outside spot and Mack Alexander is looking to build on last season which was his best. He has looked the best of all the CBs thus far in camp. Free Agent veteran Bene Benwikere is looking to help add to the depth and rookie Kris Boyd has flashed too. Once the team gets Mike Hughes & Holton Hill back they will be extremely deep at CB. The Safety duo of Pro Bowler Harrison Smith and rising Anthony Harris looks to solidify the back end of the Vikings defense. The Vikings were able to keep LB Anthony Barr in the off season and he will pair with Eric Kendricks again giving the Vikings a formidable LB duo. This unit has consistently been a top 5-10 unit and is looking to show they can be a top 5 unit again this season.
On Special Teams Kicker Dan Bailey has had a good camp with the exception of one day. It appears the Vikings are settling in on having Matt Wile be the holder. Wile struggled last season but this off season he appears to have corrected his issues and is doing a nice job holding for Bailey as when he holds Bailey does his best. Wile is also having a great camp as a Punter consistently getting distance when he needs to and doing a great job pinning the return back deep when he needs to. Once the Vikings settle on a Long Snapper the Kicking operation will be complete. Chad Beebe & Ameer Abdullah are the leading return men for punts & kickoffs respectively.
Buckle up for what should be a fun preseason where we finally get to see the team in live action again against other opponents! Some of the play calling is likely going to be vanilla in these games since the team won’t want to reveal much but its still great to see the team in action again. Let’s pray for no injuries and may the best 53 men make the roster! #SKOL