Vikings

Five Players With Something to Prove at Rookie Training Camp

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA Today Sports)

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Day 1 of training camp is in the books, with the rookie class and select others hitting the practice field for their first July session of 2019. The practice rarely ramped up to full speed, but it still gave us our first sampling of some key players that need strong camps to vie for roster spots.

Here are five players with the most to gain — or lose.

BISI JOHNSON

With the sheer amount of competition at wide receiver, rookies like Johnson out of Colorado State have a great opportunity to make a splash — but also a great risk to get left in the wake of other pass catchers aiming to make the 53-man roster. The onus is on Johnson to show improvement in training camp after some rough spring practices where he struggled to hang onto the football. Meanwhile, Davion Davis and Dillon Mitchell showed great potential out of the four-man rookie receiver class, seemingly taking the early advantage.

If there’s upside for Johnson, it’s that he’s often found himself in position to make catches by using his separation skills, and he may have been victimized by some inaccurate tosses from third- and fourth-string passers during OTAs and mini-camp. With Kirk Cousins present at the rookie portion of training camp, Johnson may have a chance to build chemistry with the team’s top quarterback. He had a clean practice on Tuesday.

JAKE BROWNING

Speaking of quarterbacks, the Washington grad Jake Browning has a legitimate shot to make some noise as the perceived fourth-string quarterback on the roster — as least moreso than fourth-stringers of the past.

Rick Spielman labeled the quarterback competition as one he’s most excited to watch and refrained from naming any one of them as set-in-stone backup. “I think the quarterbacks position will be critical behind Kirk between the three we have back,” Spielman said. “We’ve been impressed with Mannion and with Sloter and with Browning. They all had great offseasons, so that will be a fun competition to watch when we get going.”

The Vikings may only go with one young veteran as their number two, giving Browning a chance to be the next developmental arm. Spielman has always kept a quarterback project either deep on the roster or as part of the practice squad. With Sloter now in his third season on the team, it’s likely his time to either be promoted or move on — (I think promoted) — giving Browning a chance to be the new project.

KRIS BOYD

News broke Tuesday afternoon that second-year corner Holton Hill had been suspended an additional four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. This came on top of his existing four-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use.

Hill, the likely No. 5 corner on the roster, is now out for half the season, opening the door for fellow Texas Longhorn Kris Boyd. If the rookie seventh-round pick can take to Mike Zimmer’s coaching, he’ll have a shot to duplicate what Hill did by contributing important reps as a rookie. He stood out in OTAs and mini-camp as a favorite of Zimmer’s and peaked on June 12 when he intercepted two passes at mini-camp.

Boyd had three interceptions and 6.5 tackles for loss in his Texas career.

ARMON WATTS

Watts took reps with the rookie-version of the first team on Tuesday, but he’ll quickly be usurped when veterans report on Friday. The sixth-round pick will have to work his way past former fourth-round draft picks Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes, as well as the promising former UDFA Hercules Mata’afa, who beefed up in the offseason.

Watts forced three fumbles and recorded seven sacks in his final year at the Arkansas — his only notable year of production. That one season was enough to get him an NFL contract, and it speaks to Watts’ potential, but it may cost him precious time as he learns the technical nuances of the pro game. Unlike his time in college, he won’t get a chance to wait until his fourth season to make an impression.

DRU SAMIA

While the team’s first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury fit quickly into the first unit as the team’s new starting center, fourth-round pick Dru Samia has had a quieter start to his Vikings’ career. The highly-touted Oklahoma product, who many believed to be a steal in the draft, took most of his reps with the 3s during spring practices. Tuesday he played next to Bradbury at right guard during rookies practice — a spot he’d probably like to settle into down the road.

As mentioned in Monday’s position battles piece, the Vikings have often been forced to use their backup guard due to injury. Can Samia position himself as the preferred next-in-line option behind Josh Kline and Pat Elflein, or will he need a redshirt year while Brett Jones and/or Dakota Dozier take precedent? We’ll be keeping an eye on which side Samia looks the most comfortable.

Samia is well-known for his attitude and aggressive playing style that would enhance the nastiness level Zimmer desires on the offensive line, but it’s possible he may need some refinement.

Get every piece of Minnesota Vikings training camp content HERE.

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