Pelissero: Post-minicamp roster analysis reveals few lineup questions
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The most scrutinized development on the field during this past weekend's three-day minicamp at Winter Park involved the inactivity of a third-string quarterback.
Consider that an excellent sign for the Minnesota Vikings.
The future of Sage Rosenfels won't make or break this roster, which scouts rate as one of the most talented in the NFL. And barring an unexpected bailout by Brett Favre, there will be few questions entering training camp about starting jobs -- rehabilitation efforts of linebacker E.J. Henderson and cornerback Cedric Griffin notwithstanding.
The following is a position-by-position look at the Vikings' roster as it stands after minicamp. (Numbers in parentheses indicate total players at that position who finished last season on the 53-man roster.)
Quarterbacks (3): Rosenfels' days as a Viking may be numbered. Uncapped year or not, paying a 32-year-old journeyman $2.6 million to hold a clipboard doesn't make much sense, especially if the team feels rookie sixth-round pick Joe Webb is worth developing. That salary also makes Rosenfels difficult to trade, so the Vikings may end up holding onto him as an insurance policy through training camp and then cutting him loose. Tarvaris Jackson is the clear No. 2 behind Favre, who would stun the entire league if he doesn't return for a 20th NFL season.
Running backs (4): Second-year pro Albert Young is ahead of second-round pick Toby Gerhart as Adrian Peterson's top backup, but it's probably only a matter of time until that changes. Young is smaller and may have value as a situational, change-of-pace back. Gerhart is the move-the-chains guy the Vikings envision spelling Peterson -- whose unexcused minicamp absence should be a non-issue as long as the fumbling stops -- and playing on third downs. Practice-squad holdover Ian Johnson did himself no favors by dropping a couple of passes over the weekend. Darius Reynaud brings a little more value as a scatback than he did as a receiver but still will need to make the team on returns. Naufahu Tahi remains the starting fullback, and the Vikings don't need to keep more than one. Seventh-round pick Ryan D'Imperio, a converted linebacker, had to start from scratch in OTAs and has a long road ahead.
Receivers (6): Speedy Jaymar Johnson and veteran Greg Lewis are the best bets to land reserve roles behind Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian, but neither is a lock. Former Gopher Logan Payne has flashed since being signed off the street three weeks ago. Undrafted rookie Ray Small has some return ability. And Taye Biddle, who hasn't played in an NFL game since 2006, keeps doing enough to stay in the mix year after year.
Tight ends (4): Visanthe Shiancoe remains the starter and Jim Kleinsasser the blocking specialist. Jeff Dugan's ability to play fullback adds to his value, but he and Garrett Mills -- who is running out of chances -- will face a challenge from tenacious seventh-round pick Mickey Shuler.
Offensive line (8): Unless the Vikings make a play for free agent Chester Pitts -- the longtime Houston guard who is recovering from microfracture knee surgery -- the starting five probably is set. Scouts rank this unit among the Vikings' few weaknesses, but the team has a litany of reasons to believe last year wasn't indicative of the group's talent: the offense's altered personality with Favre, the inexperience of two new starters and the injuries that nagged Bryant McKinnie (feet), Steve Hutchinson (shoulder), John Sullivan (foot), Anthony Herrera (shoulder/concussion) and Phil Loadholt (shoulder). Utility man Ryan Cook seems safe as a backup. Fifth-round pick Chris DeGeare has loads of potential and impressed at guard during OTAs, but he isn't consistent enough to push for a starting spot. Jon Cooper is a decent bet again as a backup center, and Patrick Brown may have the best shot among the practice-squad holdovers at tackle.
Defensive line (9): Once Ray Edwards ends his contract-related absence and Pat Williams (elbow surgery) is ready for contact, Brian Robison and Jimmy Kennedy will rejoin a solid backup group that also includes Fred Evans and rookie pass rusher Everson Griffen, who has shown early signs he might have been a steal in the fourth round. Tossing in All-Pros Kevin Williams and Jared Allen, there's probably only one more spot and Letroy Guion has the inside track. Veteran Michael Montgomery, signed to a one-year deal as a street free agent, is a try-hand guy who's OK against the run and not much else. Jayme Mitchell may be another odd man out.
Linebackers (6): By all accounts, Henderson is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a gruesome fractured femur, but the Vikings have been proceeding as though second-year pro Jasper Brinkley will start the opener Sept. 9 at New Orleans. Given each player's skillset -- both have downhill run traits, but Henderson's instincts and lateral mobility make him superior in coverage -- it's possible they'll split time early on, with Brinkley taking base snaps and Henderson handling nickel duties. Brother Erin Henderson spent minicamp with the starters in place of Chad Greenway, who sat out with an undisclosed nick, and seems to have taken a step forward entering his third season. There still aren't many other options behind Greenway and Ben Leber. Heath Farwell is strictly a special teamer and fifth-round pick Nate Triplett seems headed that direction if he makes the team. Kenny Onatolu and J Leman are just guys.
Defensive backs (10): Jamarca Sanford took some snaps of Madieu Williams in minicamp, but the smart money still says Williams and Tyrell Johnson will remain the starting safeties. Husain Abdullah has the inside track for the other backup job there. The real intrigue is at cornerback, where Antoine Winfield is recovered from the foot injury that crippled him last year and veteran Lito Sheppard -- signed to a one-year deal in April -- is the best bet to start on the other (right) side. Winfield, Asher Allen and Benny Sapp all could slide inside in nickel. Top draft pick Chris Cook is strictly an outside guy and didn't help himself by sitting out the entire minicamp with an undisclosed injury. Griffin also is strictly an outside guy, might be headed for the physically unable to perform list and could be a backup when he returns if the others take advantage. Former Gopher Marcus Sherels was one of the stars of minicamp and also will get a look on punt returns, but at this stage, he's still a long shot.
Specialists (3): Talk about competition aside, it's a virtual certainty veteran Ryan Longwell will continue handling place-kicking duties and Rhys Lloyd will have to earn his spot as a kickoff specialist. Punter Chris Kluwe and long snapper Cullen Loeffler are unopposed. Harvin is locked in as the kick returner and also could contribute on punts, although Reynaud is the incumbent and Sheppard, Small and Sherels could get looks, too.