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NFL Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings 2013 Training Camp Preview

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Minnesota Vikings Training Camp Preview

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a 3-13 campaign in 2011, projecting much more than six wins for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012 required a real leap of faith. But they wound up being one of the most surprising teams in the NFL, winning 10 regular season games and earning a playoff berth.

Despite their success last season, the Vikings entered the offseason with some obvious needs if they hope to reach a higher level in 2013. Starting quarterback Christian Ponder missed the team’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers with an arm injury, and backup Joe Webb showed once and for all he could not cut it as a signal caller.

Minnesota made a bold move early in the offseason by trading wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, but that could be a positive move in an overall sense since he had become a headache off the field and missed the end of last season with an ankle injury.

The Packers went 11-5 last season, and they are still the class of the NFC North despite some postseason disappointment over the last two years. But the Chicago Bears went 10-6 in 2012 and now have a new head coach in Marc Trestman. The Detroit Lions are coming off a dismal 4-12 campaign last season, but they have too much talent to not add a few wins this season. Needless to say, the Vikings face a great challenge to win 10 games again this year.

The Vikings will start training camp in southern Minnesota on July 25 with most of their 53-man roster locked in, but there will be a few notable battles for starting jobs and roles. Here’s a look at what to watch for.

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Christian Ponder is entering a make-or-break season in 2013, after what can kindly be classified as an up-and-down first full season as a starter last season. Matt Cassel was signed via free agency to give the Vikings a more viable backup quarterback, but he is not expected to get a legit chance to win the starting job.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson should stick as the No. 3 quarterback for Minnesota, but if he sees significant action during the regular season things clearly are not going well.

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Running Backs

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Adrian Peterson nearly set the single-season rushing record last season, and being further removed from his torn left ACL in December of 2011 will keep expectations high for 2013.

Toby Gerhart is in place as Peterson’s primary backup, but he is entering the final year of his contract and could be traded during the preseason.

The No. 3 running back for Minnesota is unlikely to have much of a role this season, but Zach Line could earn a roster spot and make a case to be Peterson’s backup if Gerhart is traded at some point or not brought back for 2014.

Fullback Jerome Felton is coming off a Pro Bowl season, and he will return as Peterson’s lead blocker.

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Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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The Vikings took a proactive approach to address their need for talent at wide receiver this offseason, signing Greg Jennings in free agency and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson with one of their three first-round picks in April.

Jarius Wright is in line to take Harvin’s place as Minnesota’s primary slot receiver after some good moments late last season as a rookie, and Jerome Simpson should still have a role after essentially a lost season in 2012. Joe Webb is making an overdue position move from quarterback, and he may be one of the most watched players at Vikings’ training camp.

Stephen Burton has not produce much to this point in his career, and I think he is legitimately on the roster bubble heading into training camp. Wright’s college teammate Greg Childs is working his way back after tearing the patella tendon in both knees during a training camp scrimmage last year, and if healthy enough he could stick on the Vikings’ practice squad.

Kyle Rudolph is a star in the making at tight end, but John Carlson had a disappointing first season with Minnesota last year and could be overtaken by Rhett Ellison for the No.2 spot on the depth chart.

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Offensive Line

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The Vikings are well established along the offensive line, particularly at the tackle spots (Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt) and center (John Sullivan). A potential position battle is coming at right guard though, with rookies Jeff Baca and Travis Bond possibly challenging Brandon Fusco for the starting job.

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Defensive Line

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The Vikings are set-up well along the defensive line, with Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison leading the charge.

That said, a prominent camp battle for a starting job will take place at nose tackle. Letroy Guion, who started 15 games in 2012, will have to hold off Fred Evans and the loser may find himself in a minimized role.

Minnesota added a potential heir apparent for Williams by using a first-round pick on defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, and defensive end Everson Griffen will look to take a on a bigger role this season after his breakout season in 2012.

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Strong side linebacker Chad Greenway has made two consecutive Pro Bowls and he is no danger of losing his starting job, but otherwise this group may be the most closely watched position during training camp.

Erin Henderson had been expected to take over at middle linebacker for the departed Jasper Brinkley, but the signing of former Packer Desmond Bishop in June alters that plan some. Both Henderson and Bishop should be starters come Week 1, it’s just a matter of where they will be.

The Vikings used two draft picks in April on linebackers, adding Penn State teammates Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. Hodges adds depth at outside linebacker, while Mauti’s recovery from the third ACL tear of his collegiate career will be worth watching. 2012 seventh round pick Audie Cole had been mentioned as a possible candidate to start at middle linebacker, but he should have a spot on the 53-man roster regardless.

Veterans Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie and Larry Dean are likely competing for one or two roster spots during training camp.

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Defensive Backs

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The Vikings were a bit thin at cornerback going into the offseason, and the release of Antoine Winfield made adding talent at the position an even more pressing need.

Xavier Rhodes was the second of Minnesota’s three first-round picks in April, and he is expected to team with Chris Cook as the team’s starting corners.

Josh Robinson started six games as a rookie last season, and he is now slated to take Winfield’s place as the Vikings’ primary slot corner. Jacob Lacey was signed in free agent, and he should add some depth and experience at cornerback.

Harrison Smith had an excellent rookie season in 2012, returning two interceptions for touchdowns and establishing himself as a physical presence. Jamarca Sanford looks likely to start at strong safety, but he will face competition from 2012 Week 1 starter Mistral Raymond.

A.J. Jefferson, Robert Blanton, Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton, Andrew Sendejo and Bobby Felder will compete for the other roster spots in Minnesota’s secondary, with Jefferson, Blanton and Sherels the most likely to make the 53-man roster right now.

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Special Teams

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Blair Walsh is firmly established as Minnesota’s kicker after an excellent rookie season, and rookie Jeff Locke will replace the departed Chris Kluwe as the punter.

Harvin’s departure leaves the Vikings in need of a primary kickoff returner, but Patterson should get every chance to take the job. Sherels has been the team's primary punt returner over the last two seasons, but Webb, Patterson, Wright and Robinson may all get a chance to unseat him during camp.