5 position story lines at Minnesota Vikings training camp

Wide Receiver Justin Jefferson #2 of the LSU Tigers avoids a tackle by Safety K'Von Wallace #12 of the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff National Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans, Lo ((Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images))

Minnesota Vikings football is (almost) back. Vikings’ rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans will report to TCO Performance Center on Thursday for Training Camp.

The rest of the squad reports next Tuesday. We don’t yet know when the first workout will be, but the team will be under strict protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic forced the NFL Draft to go virtual, as well as the entire Vikings’ offseason. No minicamp, no organized team activities. We also know there won’t be a preseason.

Next Tuesday will mark the first time the Vikings’ roster will be together since losing to the 49ers in the playoffs last year. The team drafted a franchise record 15 picks in April. So what are some position battles to keep an eye on? Here’s a look.

Offensive line competition between Dru Samia, Ezra Cleveland and Oli Udoh

The Vikings pretty much know what they have with Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein, Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill. They drafted Ezra Cleveland in the second round, and he can play guard or tackle. Dru Samia is back for his second season, and Oli Udoh will battle for snaps. They’ve also got depth in Rashod Hill, Aviante Collins and Dakota Dozier. A starting spot could be up for grabs between Cleveland and Samia, replacing the departed Josh Kline. It will be interesting to see how the offensive line shakes out before Week 1, especially with only practice film to go off.

What will Justin Jefferson’s immediate impact be?

The Vikings’ biggest splash in the off-season came in trading Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for four draft picks, including the No. 22 overall pick. The Vikings used that pick to take what they hope is the next No. 2 receiver to Adam Thielen. Justin Jefferson caught 111 passes at LSU last year and won a national championship. Can he make an immediate impact without on-field practice before camp?

Who gets snaps in the secondary?

The Vikings’ secondary will look vastly different in 2020. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Andrew Sendejo? All gone. Their most experienced defensive backs returning? Mike Hughes and Holton Hill. They have Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, arguably the best safety duo in the NFL. They drafted Jeff Gladney at the end of the first round, and drafted Harrison Hand, Cameron Dantzler, Brian Cole II and Josh Metellus. The secondary will need to grow up in a hurry to meet Mike Zimmer’s standards.

What happens at running back without Dalvin Cook?

Vikings camp starts next week, and we’ve heard nothing from Dalvin Cook since he opted out from team activities while wanting a new contract. Cook, despite injuries that kept out of two games and halves of two others, ran for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He was also the No. 2 receiver for Kirk Cousins. He wants to get paid, and won’t practice until something is done. So where does that leave the Vikings? They didn’t draft a running back, so they’ve got Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah back. It would be best for all involved for Cook to get paid and to be in the backfield Week 1 against the Packers.

What will the Vikings do at punt return?

Marcus Sherels was the security blanket for the Vikings on punt return. He’s gone, so what now? Mike Hughes has experience as a punt returner. Draft pick KJ Osborn has spent part of the off-season field punts from jugs machines, and Marwan Maalouf said earlier this off-season Justin Jefferson will get a look. Even Chad Beebe and Adam Thielen took reps at camp last year. But rookies often find their way on offense or defense by excelling in special teams. It’ll be interesting to see who emerges.

Football is almost back, even if fans won’t be allowed to see it live at TCO Performance Center due to Covid-19.