With training camp just over two weeks away, the wait for the return of football is almost over. With new coaches, players and schemes, fans will finally get a glimpse of what the 2014 Vikings will ultimately look like. Each year at training camp there are always a few surprise players that stand out. They won’t all necessarily become starters, but it’s fun to watch them increase their standing with the team and take a shot at making the roster. In past years we have seen guys like Audie Cole and Matt Asiata turn heads and eventually make the team. So who will it be this season? Here a few guys to watch that may just make the jump
Robert Blanton, S
This third year converted safety has a real opportunity in front of him to not only be on the team, but to earn a starting job. We know Harrison Smith will start, but it’s completely open for who plays next to him. Blanton has been a great special teams player and has filled in adequately when called upon. In fact, he was 5th on the team in tackles last season with 60. He will be competing against guys like Antone Exum, Minstral Raymond, Jarmarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo. We know what we have with the last three, which is nothing special and Exum may be a nice player but probably not yet. The reviews on Blanton have been very positive this offseason. With one more year of experience at safety under his belt, look for Robert Blanton to surprise and earn a starting spot next to his former college teammate.
Kain Colter, WR
Colter is a former quarterback who gopher fans may remember seeing with Northwestern. He is undersized but is quick and shifty. He will play wide receiver in the NFL, but could be used all over and potentially in wildcat situations much like Joe Webb was. His abilities will be on full display during training camp and he may open up some eyes. This undrafted free agent has a very good shot of winning the 5th WR spot behind Jennings, Patterson, Simpson and Wright. If he doesn’t do that then at the very least he should make the practice squad so he can continue learning a new position.
Jeff Baca, G
There is nothing sexy about the guard position, but it is one of desperate need for the Vikings this season. Baca is relatively unknown coming into his second year, but because of the situation he has a great chance to start or at least earn more playing time The incumbent left guard Charlie Johnson is back, but that doesn’t mean he will earn the starting job. Johnson has been pretty awful in his time with the Vikings and is definitely the weak spot on a good offensive line. Vladimir Ducasse was brought in from the Jets, but isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot. That leaves a golden opportunity for Baca who is quick and has good hands. He isn’t the best run blocker yet, but with Peterson in the backfield he only has to do so much. With pass blocking needing to improve, I say give the youngster a chance over old retreads.
Jerick McKinnon, RB
The last player to mention is the 3rd round pick out of Georgia Southern. Personally, I wasn’t thrilled with this pick at draft time but I have come around. McKinnon is a fast and versatile player who will be a great change-of-pace running back. With Turner loving to throw to RBs, we may see what he is capable of sooner than later. He has a lot to learn but his athletic ability alone should get him noticed during training camp.