Pelissero: Bobby Felder, Chris Summers are 2 to watch in Vikings OTAs
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Both came from NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs -- Felder at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., Summers at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Both went undrafted in 2012 and agreed to modest NFL contracts -- a $7,500 signing bonus for Felder with the Minnesota Vikings, no bonus for Summers with the Chicago Bears.
Both were released in August but were re-signed to the Vikings' eight-man practice squad, where they made a strong impression over the course of the season, away from reporters' eyes.
"We just preached to ourselves on Week 1, we just want to get better every week," Felder said recently. "We would just go in and watch film and just see what we need to do, because he took the same path I took. He looked at it like he gets to go up against the starters.
"He actually made some great plays last year, some plays that you would see some guys on Sunday make. A lot of people don't get to see that. But the coaches, the scouts, the GMs and everyone else sees it. Sometimes, that's all that matters. "
The Vikings re-signed their entire practice squad -- including defensive tackle Chase Baker, halfback Joe Banyard, receiver LaMark Brown, tight end Chase Ford, guard Tyler Holmes and tackle Kevin Murphy -- to reserve/futures contracts after the season.
Felder and Summers are the two who come up most often in conversations about which holdovers, if any, have a chance to help the Vikings on the field in 2013 after spending 2012 running with the scout team.
"It can get frustrating at some point," said Summers, who, like Felder, earned the minimum $96,900 for the season. "But you've got to look at where you're at. A lot of people are not even in the position you're in. I like to look at it as a blessing. I look at it as a redshirt."
Linebacker Tyrone McKenzie spent most of 2011 on the practice squad and became a core special teamer last year. Tight end Allen Reisner and running back Matt Asiata spent time there in 2011, too, and made the 53-man roster out of training camp last summer.
Others in recent years, such as return man Marcus Sherels and special teamer Andrew Sendejo, have earned their promotions from the practice squad late in the season and stuck on the 53 the following fall.
The fact that Felder and Summers play positions at which the Vikings are in transition only helped them stand out last year and raises the chances they'll get a long look when organized team activity practices begin on Tuesday.
Felder, 22, has trained in the slot and is a darkhorse to push for time there in the Vikings' subpackage defenses following the departure of veteran Antoine Winfield. He has dropped to under 200 pounds on his thick, 5-11 frame by eating out less and mixing in more salads.
"I kind of figured out that if you work hard in the weight room and then you go home and you eat a double cheeseburger, that's just going to defeat the purpose," Felder said.
"It really impacts you. You can even tell just when you wake up. You feel a lot better throughout the day. You recover a lot faster. Like someone told me, put on a 10-pound weight vest and go out there and play with that on, and then take it off and see how quick you're going to be."
Summers, 23, spent two months training in Atlanta after the season and was notably bigger during the Vikings' rookie camp this month -- up from 208 to about 220 pounds at 6-foot-5. He has been working on mechanics (staying low in and out of breaks, watching the ball) and could factor in the competition for the fifth receiver spot at split end behind Jerome Simpson.
"I have a great chance, as long as I hone in and do my part," Summers said. "It's all on me right now. Coach has already told me it's all on me. Just making sure I compete on anything -- special teams, anything I can get on the team and help this team win, that's what I'm going to do."
Felder's regular morning greeting on his Twitter account is: "Hello World. Good-Morning America. All you need is 1 opportunity."
He made the most of his last year. So did Summers, who flashed often enough in practice the Vikings discussed promoting him to the active roster late in the season.
Both already have made it past the point many smaller-school prospects fall by the wayside. Both are pulling for each other. Now, it's up to each of them individually to see how far they can take it.
"That's my goal -- to get on the 53 and just try to make the best of every opportunity," Felder said. "I just take it for what it's worth last year, and even though I didn't get as many reps in camp last year, I tried to make them count.
"As my reps increase, I can just understand the game better and take that and get better as a player. Coming from a small school, you might meet a good receiver every now and then. But out there, I get to work with the ones every day. So, I feel they helped me get a lot better and I see it translating over."