Breaking down the Vikings' rookies: Cook, DeGeare are the standouts so far
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MANKATO, Minn. -- Eight days and 14 practices already in the books, Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress was asked how his rookie class has adjusted to the tempo and physicality of training camp.
"The biggest thing is that they're still standing," Childress said on Friday afternoon. "There's something to be said for that, in terms of the rep part of it."
Indeed, for all the bumps and bruises the Vikings are fighting at this early stage, the newcomers have been largely unscathed.
Progress through the depth chart, however, has been varied -- and some of the offseason's standouts haven't picked up where they left off back in June.
Here's a look through where things stand with the rookies one week shy of the preseason opener:
• CB Chris Cook (Virginia, 2nd round, 34th overall): One of the stars of camp so far, Cook (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) has four interceptions in competitive drills and seems like a natural in press coverage. He also has shown surprising deep speed, running stride-for-stride with WR Bernard Berrian on Friday to break up a pass down the sideline. Coaches have discussed giving Cook a look at right cornerback, where Lito Sheppard has gotten the lion's share of reps with the starters and is the presumed starter entering the season. For now, Cook's staying on the left side -- but don't rule him out for expanded action if he continues to flash in the preseason. At this point, he probably stands fourth on the depth chart at cornerback behind Antoine Winfield, Sheppard and Asher Allen, with veteran Benny Sapp an unknown because he's missed so much practice and Cedric Griffin still sidelined after knee reconstruction.
• RB Toby Gerhart (Stanford, 2nd, 51st): Albert Young remains No. 2 on the depth chart behind Adrian Peterson, but Gerhart (6-foot, 231) gradually is carving out a role. Perhaps his best showing came during Tuesday's goal-line period, in which Gerhart scored the starting offense's only touchdown by fighting off a couple of ankle tackles. He hasn't shown much wiggle and probably will be at his best when the action is live, although coaches are on him to get his pad level down and finish.
• DE Everson Griffen (Southern California, 4th, 100th): An offseason standout, Griffen (6-3, 273) has had a quiet camp, working mostly at right end with the third-string defense. Pass rushers usually show up most in games, though, so Griffen -- who has a big-time speed move but still is working on an effective counter -- is one to keep an eye on in the preseason.
• G Chris DeGeare (Wake Forest, 5th, 161st): Outside of perhaps Cook, no rookie has made a bigger impression than big DeGeare (6-4, 325). He's worked at left guard with the second-team offense and also gotten his share of reps with the starters, spelling veteran Steve Hutchinson. On Friday, DeGeare worked with the starting field-goal unit -- a sign his stock is rising. Coaches also plan to work DeGeare at right guard, setting him up for a multi-position backup role as a rookie.
• LB Nate Triplett (Minnesota, 5th, 167th): It's hard to figure out what the Vikings plan to do with Triplett (6-3, 247). He played inside at the "U" but has been working outside in camp, mostly with the third string. He was projected as a special-teams threat but isn't on any starting units. The latter is the area in which he'll need to show up in the preseason to have a shot at making the team.
• QB Joe Webb (UAB, 6th, 199th): Drafted as a receiver, Webb (6-4, 220) has shown signs of improvement the past couple of days but clearly has a long way to go. For all his physical abilities, the transition from a college spread offense to Childress' West Coast scheme is testing Webb mentally -- not uncommon for a rookie. He's worked as the No. 3 quarterback throughout camp behind Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels. Unless and until Brett Favre announces his return, the Vikings won't have to make the big decision: deal Rosenfels or expose Webb to waivers.
• TE Mickey Shuler (Penn State, 7th, 214th): A hamstring injury has limited Shuler (6-4, 247) throughout camp, and he didn't have a catch in team (11-on-11) drills until Friday, when he had three. Despite Garrett Mills' struggles, Shuler remains at the bottom of the depth chart. But he's a tough, smart player who could come on in the preseason if the hammy heals.
• FB Ryan D'Imperio (Rutgers, 7th, 237th): The transition from linebacker remains a battle for D'Imperio (6-3, 240), who is so tall for the position he often plays too high and struggles to get a good base. His receiving skills out of the backfield are suspect, too. With only one other true fullback on the roster, though, D'Imperio is getting plenty of work and stands to get a lot more if Naufahu Tahi's calf injury keeps him out. Along with Triplett and Shuler, he'd probably be practice squad-bound if the season started today.
• G Thomas Austin (Clemson): One of seven undrafted free agents still on the roster, Austin (6-4, 310) has been working at right guard with the third-string offense. With DeGeare, Ryan Cook and Jon Cooper seemingly in good position for backup jobs, making the team as an interior backup will be tough.
• G Adrian Battles (Minnesota State): Battles (6-3, 311) has been working at left guard with the third-string offense. See: Austin.
• WR Marquis Hamilton (Iowa State): Size is an asset for Hamilton (6-3, 222), who isn't particularly agile and has a long way to go as a route-runner in this offense. He's worked mostly with the third-team offense and has four catches in team drills. At least seven players are ahead of Hamilton on the depth chart and he remains an extreme long shot.
• T Bill Noethlich (Southwest Minnesota State): Signed after a rookie-camp tryout, Noethlich (6-7, 308) has been working with the third-string offense at right tackle. The Vikings need a backup tackle, but Drew Radovich and Patrick Brown seem to have the inside track at this stage.
• CB Marcus Sherels (Minnesota): Another tryout signing, Sherels was highly productive during offseason practices and had two interceptions in practice on Friday. He's also getting a look on returns but remains a long shot, with the other six cornerbacks all ahead of him on the depth chart.
• S Terrell Skinner (Maryland): Working with the third-string defense, Skinner (6-2, 214) hasn't flashed. It doesn't help him that No. 4 safety Husain Abdullah is having a productive camp and Eric Frampton is a valuable special teamer.
• WR Ray Small (Ohio State): Perhaps the most intriguing undrafted rookie, Small (5-11, 180) has made a few plays in the passing game -- mostly with the third-team offense -- but will have to make his name on punt returns in the preseason. Though he catches the ball well, Small needs to be more consistent. Breaking a big one or two could make the difference in his long-shot bid.