The Vikings have signed two new players to get closer to meeting the maximum roster size (90 players) before training camp. With OL Sean Hickey and LB Jason Whittingham, they now have 89 players on the roster and could be adding punter Taylor Symmank to compete with Jeff Locke in the coming days.
Who are these players, and can they help?
In 2014, the Vikings added two players right before camp, receivers Tyrone Walker and Andy Cruse, as well as tight end Kory Sperry partway through camp after releasing AC Leonard. Predictably, none of the three made the roster or practice squad.
That’s likely the case for these two (but perhaps not so for Symmank if the Vikings do end up going in that direction), but it’s still worth figuring out what they bring to the table. After all, a lot of people—me included—thought defensive tackle Tom Johnson was just a camp body. Not only did he surprise by making the roster, he was perhaps the best defensive linemen of the 2014 campaign.
Sean Hickey, an undrafted free agent from Syracuse, unsurprisingly did not receive rave reviews before the draft. Lance Zierlein, NFL.com’s draft analyst and something of an OL specialist, had this to say:
STRENGTHS: Can get good movement when he locks in. At his best in jump sets, with a good punch and good leverage inside. Walls off defenders effectively in run game. Can drop his anchor and take a stand against power rushers when needed.
WEAKNESSES: Looks lost when he gets to the second level. Poor footwork on every wide defender. Plays with low, wide hands on pass pro, which leads to a lack of punch. Turns his shoulders and opens up too quickly in pass pro. Does not look for work downfield. Lacks thickness through his chest.
DRAFT PROJECTION: Round 7 or priority free agent
NFL COMPARISON: Andrew Gardner
BOTTOM LINE: High-cut college tackle who could struggle badly in pass protection if left at that position in the pros. If he were a little more athletic, he could be an interesting center prospect in the Chris Myers mold. As an NFL prospect, he won’t check off many of the boxes teams are looking for in terms of his natural talent.
(No, that’s not Andrew Garda, the sportswriter, but Andrew Gardner the former journeyman guard).
Hickey was signed by the New Orleans Saints and was regarded largely as a tackle by the media and the team (who listed him as a tackle before the preseason). That media was pretty optimistic about him, with at least one projection including him on the 53-man roster.
The former Syracuse alum ended up playing guard in camp, but didn’t avail himself poorly by any means.
He didn’t play in the first preseason game against the Ravens, but did play against the Patriots in the second game. Overall, he wasn’t bad from a results perspective (something telling: the Patriots signed him later) but did have some technical issues.
In 74 snaps, he gave up no sacks or hits, but did give up two hurries—which isn’t bad, but it’s not stellar. He largely looked good to me, and showcased more athleticism than I expected, especially as a guard. Some parts of Zierlein’s scouting report showed through; Hickey absolutely looks lost on the second level and doesn’t hit many targets there.
On the other hand, Hickey looked pretty good in pass protection, which may be the result of switching to guard partway through that offseason. His hands seemed to be appropriately placed and he could keep up with defensive tackles in handfighting.
His upper and lower body strength is fine, and is neither a weakness or an enormous asset.
Unfortunately, he still has issues playing too high. He can lose leverage this way and get walked back. His recovery and movement skills were pretty good, though. His grip strength isn’t fantastic and he can lose contact with players when he should stay on target.
But his preseason overall was pretty good if rough technically. There’s a chance he could earn a practice squad spot and stick.
I think his prospects are far better than the typical late-breaking camp signing.
Former Utah linebacker Jason Whittingham doesn’t have much written about him. He doesn’t have a ton of draft exposure, even in an era when players who struggle to make CFL rosters get draft writeups. But he certainly has his assets and will hope to make enough of a mark in a crowded linebacker room.
The issue with Whittingham, and the likely reason he wasn’t drafted, is that he’s not very strong. He’ll get blown off blocks and lose tackles because of that lack of strength.
Utah used him as an off-ball linebacker as well as an edge rusher and he’s not a terrible edge rusher, except for that strength issue. His reaction time is good and he displays his athleticism on the field, moving around quickly and surely. His fluidity allows him to move in a lot of different ways that makes him effective at covering ground in the open underneath zones or in the heavily trafficked junk on running plays.
He seems to read the flow of the play well and diagnoses the opponent, though he’ll also overrun the play at times. He seems to be pretty fluid and solid in coverage and I didn’t see many snaps with him out of place as a coverage defender.
Unfortunately, his tackling angles are weak and his tackling form isn’t very good.
He has a lot of positive qualities—traits essential to a linebacker—but his weaknesses are overwhelming enough for me to think he won’t make a practice squad, even though he should in theory be the kind of linebacker the Vikings have pursued as a core special-teamer—undersized but athletic and with instincts to navigate traffic.
Still, it should be exciting to see this roster filled out and see how training camp plays out.