MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings embark on training camp at TCO Performance Center in Eagan this week. For the first time in two years, fans will be in attendance as the team holds its first full-squad workout.
Sunday night on Fox 9 Sports Now, Fox 9 Sports Director Jim Rich sat down with Vikings’ analyst Ben Leber to preview training camp and the season ahead. Here’s five questions, and one extra, facing the team as workouts start this week.
WHO'S THE BACK-UP QB TO KIRK COUSINS?
The back-up quarterback is the most popular position on any football team. So what happens if Kirk Cousins gets hurt? He’s taken a lot of hits over the last two seasons, and the current quarterbacks on roster behind him are Jake Browning, Nate Stanley and rookie Kellen Mond. Based on organized team activities and minicamp, Browning took many of the reps behind Cousins. Mond is a third-round pick, but needs time to be ready to run an NFL offense.
WHAT WILL THE OFFENSIVE LINE LOOK LIKE?
The Vikings used the NFL Draft to invest in more beef on the offensive line, taking Christian Darrisaw in the first round and Wyatt Davis in the third round. But will they be ready by Week 1? The first team offensive line during OTAs and minicamp featured Garrett Bradbury, Brian O’Neill, Dakota Dozier, Ezra Cleveland and Rashod Hill. Darrisaw, who missed part of OTAs with an injury, will get every chance to compete for a starting job by Week 1. Davis may not start, but he’ll be in the rotation.
HOW DOES MICHAEL PIERCE'S INJURY AFFECT THE DEFENSE?
Michael Pierce opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns with asthma. We learned last week that Pierce will likely miss the first week or two of training camp after suffering a calf injury while working out on his own. So what does it mean for the defensive line? We know Danielle Hunter will be back after missing last season. The Vikings also signed Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson in free agency, and there will be competition for the other defensive end spot opposite Hunter. Pierce is expected to be ready for Week 1, which should have Vikings’ fans excited about the defense.
WHO WILL TAKE THE THIRD WIDE RECEIVER JOB?
Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are expected to lead the Vikings’ receiving corps, we know that much. Until Saturday, who would take the No. 3 receiver job was anyone’s guess. Would it be Bisi Johnson? Chad Beebe? Could Ihmir Smith-Marsette emerge in training camp? The Vikings are hoping Dede Westbrook makes the decision for them. They signed the veteran, in his fifth season after spending the last four in Jacksonville, to a one-year deal. He played in just two games last year due to injury, but made 66 catches in 2018 and 2019, and had a combined eight touchdowns in those two seasons. He also gives the Vikings an option in special teams on punt return.
WHAT'S THE STATUS OF JEFF GLADNEY?
One of the big storylines leading into training camp is if Jeff Gladney will be on the field when the team practices on Wednesday. At this point, that’s highly unlikely. Gladney will have an assault case heard before a grand jury in Texas on Thursday stemming from an incident involving his girlfriend. The Vikings have been quiet on the situation, other than saying they’re letting the legal process play out. They’ve made moves to indicate his future is short-lived, adding Xavier Woods, Bashaud Breeland, Mackensie Alexander and Patrick Peterson in free agency.
EXTRA: IS MIKE ZIMMER COACHING FOR HIS FUTURE?
The Vikings finished 7-9 in 2020 and missed the NFC Playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons under Mike Zimmer. That’s largely due to a defense that was depleted by injuries toward the end of the season. So is Zimmer on the hot seat for 2021? Both Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman are essentially a package deal with their contracts. With as many as nine new starters possible on a rebuilt defense and virtually all of the skill positions back on offense, there’s no reason the Vikings can’t make a run. If the Vikings don’t make the playoffs in 2021, it might signal a time for change.
The bottom line is the Vikings are back at practice Wednesday after five weeks off, and up to 4,000 fans will be in attendance.