What Can We Learn From Minnesota Vikings OTAs?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

Organized team activities, colloquially known as OTAs, begin this week for the Minnesota Vikings as they continue their 2019 offseason program.

This will be the first time we get a look at most of the team in uniform, offering a potential early glimpse at the Vikings’ regular season plans.

While OTAs are a time for experimentation leading up to training camp, there are still observations to be made that can provide a sample of the decision-makers’ mindsets. Here are a few things to watch out for.

What is the status of several injured pass rushers?

The Vikings head into OTAs with the status of three young defensive linemen up in the air. Tashawn Bower was seen before the draft with a boot on his left foot that impacted his participation in offseason workouts. Entering a contract year, Bower will need to perform well in order to stand out in a crowded defensive end room.

He’s not alone, though, as second-year players Ade Aruna and Hercules Mata’afa are trying to return from ACL injuries to compete on the edge. Aruna, a sixth-round pick in 2018, suffered his injury in an August preseason game, while the undrafted Mata’afa went down during last June’s OTAs. Both should be on track to play in the preseason, though Mata’afa has had a couple extra months to recover.

Between Bower, Aruna and Mata’afa, there may only be room for one — if any — on the 53-man roster. Whoever gets back to 100 percent fastest may have an inside track.

Who is in the driver’s seat at wide receiver?

There is very little decided at wide receiver beyond the fact that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen will be on the team for a long time. Chad Beebe may very well be the preferred No. 3 wideout after seeing his elevation from the practice squad to the roster mid-season in 2018, coupled with Laquon Treadwell getting partially fazed out of the offense under Kevin Stefanski late in the year.

Second-year speedster Jeff Badet has already dealt with an apparent injury, which kept him out of rookie mini-camp. Veteran acquisition Jordan Taylor is coming off multiple hip surgeries. Brandon Zylstra was rostered a year ago but saw the field sparingly in the regular season. None of these three should be considered locks, despite their experience.

That leaves the four rookies with ample opportunity to make a splash. Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson were drafted in the seventh round. Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins were picked up in undrafted free agency. All four would appear to be on a relatively level playing field entering their first full-team practices.

In all likelihood, the Vikings will fill receiving spots 3-6 with a mishmash of veterans and rookies, but there are hardly any guarantees for which names will take those spots.

Has a kicking coach been hired?

According to head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are “working on” hiring a kicking coach — perhaps an attempt to solve the kicking woes that have plagued the franchise since Zimmer arrived.

Dan Bailey is the team’s fourth placekicker since 2016, following Blair Walsh, Kai Forbath and Daniel Carlson. While the 31-year-old may need less technical instruction than a rookie — like Carlson last year — a kicking coach could pay closer attention to the snapping and holding operation, which may be in flux with seventh-round draft pick Austin Cutting in position to compete with Kevin McDermott if the Air Force allows him to play in the NFL.

New special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf will already have plenty on his plate learning about the team’s personnel and getting comfortable running the other six special teams units. The Vikings have said that improving special teams will be an emphasis in 2019.

Where are guys playing on the offensive line?

Like previous years, there should be a steady carousel on the offensive line as the Vikings gauge the comfort level of first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury at multiple positions.

Bradbury was presumably drafted as a center, but the Vikings haven’t committed publicly to keeping him at that position. Pat Elflein will likely still see snaps at center — his starting role the previous two seasons — while Bradbury may slide to left guard at times during OTAs.

Fourth-round pick Dru Samia shapes up as a competitor at right guard with veteran Josh Kline, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on the left side as well. Dakota Dozier, Brett Jones and Danny Isidora will likely be slotting in and out with the second team.

Most of the biggest questions would seem to be on the interior. The only tackle whose position could be up in the air would be Aviante Collins (torn biceps), who missed most of last season. He’s listed as a tackle on the team website.

Riley Reiff was rumored to be a candidate to switch to guard, but that may have been a smokescreen leading up to the draft.

Will Kyle Sloter got work with the second team?

We should get an early indication whether the Vikings intend to give quarterback Kyle Sloter a clean shot at the backup job. Sean Mannion was brought in as a competing backup, but his regular season resume is about as sparse as Sloter’s, having made just one career start with the Los Angeles Rams.

Sloter, of course, has never played in the regular season, but his sparkling preseason performances have made him a fan favorite. He’s yet to prove himself, however, beyond shining against second- and third-stringers late in exhibition games, and he did not show the same level of consistency during training camp practices.

If Mannion and Sloter are alternating No. 2 reps at OTAs, that could signal a training camp competition.

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