The Minnesota Vikings are still weeks away from Organized Team Activities, but in the weeks between rookie mini camp and OTAs, several newcomers will be studying their duties at new spots from where they played in college. Each of these players brings along some intrigue this offseason. Let’s have a look…
Mike Hughes (?)
Position switch: Outside corner to nickel corner
The Vikings’ first-round pick has a chance to earn a starting spot right away, but only if he can quickly pick up the slot corner position. Hughes barely played the nickel in college, generally lining up on the defensive left side against opponents’ best receivers. His quickness and strength might help him right away, though the transition’s success or failure will likely be determined by whether he can handle the complexity of the position. If Hughes doesn’t end up at nickel, he will likely rotate in when Xavier Rhodes or Trae Waynes needs a rest.
“it’s just learning new techniques and just knowing where your help is and where you have help and also fitting in the run,” Hughes said at rookie minicamp. “That’s really the main difference than playing outside. For me, it’s not really too hard, I feel like I’m adjusting well.”
Position switch: Left tackle to right tackle
This won’t exactly be a true position change because O’Neill started out at right tackle in college and then played last season on the left side. At Pitt, he switched from playing tight end to tackle in short order and had a great deal of success protecting the quarterback on the left and right side. Still he will have to get back to adapting to the right side while also trying to gain weight/muscle and improve technique in order to be ready for the NFL game. That may not be an easy task.
“There are going to be a lot of things flying at you, whether it is the playbook, different guys, different lineups or whatever it is, come in ready to work and be focused in everything that you’re doing,” O’Neill said at rookie minicamp.
Position switch: Defensive end to defensive tackle
Holmes’ NFL.com profile sums him up perfectly: “He has intriguing size/strength potential that could make him a better pro than college player.” That size/strength combo is the reason the Vikings selected him in the fourth round with eyes on moving him to three-technique. This year, the best case scenario for Holmes is a chance to rotate into the lineup in run situations.
“We watched him early at Ohio State, he’s played a bunch of different position there,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s got great size, great length, athletic ability. We still think he’s got a lot of raw, untapped potential. This is a guy that Andre [Patterson] not only a lot of work on him but guys like him are guys that he’s really made succeed in this league.”
Position switch: Defensive tackle to linebacker or defensive end
One of the most intriguing undrafted free agents, Mata’afa racked up 21 sacks and 45.5 tackles for loss in his career at Washington State, but he doesn’t exactly project by size as an NFL defensive tackle – not even close. At minicamp, the Vikings listed him as a linebacker. Mike Zimmer talked about that potential transition.
“He led the NCAA in negative plays the last two years,” Zimmer said. “It is a little different. He was slanting and moving quite a bit. Size wise, he projects more into that. There has been several guys that have gone from defensive line to linebacker. [Teddy] Bruschi is a great example. I am not saying he is Bruschi, but there are guys that have done that in the past. It is going to take time but that will be the biggest adjustment, learning. He’s looking at running backs now and receivers where before, he was looking at guards.”
However, following minicamp, the Vikings’ website changed to list him as a defensive end. It’s possible he gets a shot at the Brian Robison role, standing up over the guard in pass rush situations.
Holton Hill (?)
Position switch: Possibly cornerback to safety
Listed as a DB rather than a corner, Hill may be asked to take reps at safety. With his size and aggressive tackling ability, there’s a chance he could find a niche as a defensive back who can play all over the field. That may be his ticket to making the team.