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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Mailbag: Vikings rookie expectations, state of linebackers and ‘why not Billings?’

By Andrew Krammer

Note: Some of these questions were answered on the latest Purple Podcast with Judd Zulgad, Andrew Krammer and ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling. Send any questions you have on Twitter to @Andrew_Krammer, or email, and we’ll often use both the blog and podcast to answer.

Cuts and additions can still be made, but the Vikings’ 90-man roster sits at capacity. Offense and defense will line up against each other for the first time next week. And in about two months, pads make the first appearance as training camp opens in late July.

So let’s take a look at some expectations for rookies and returning hopefuls in the latest Vikings mailbag.

@Andrew_Krammer @1500ESPNJudd @GoesslingESPN Can we expect young playmakers Pruitt & McKinnon to get more involved this year?

— Travis Schlenger (@TravisSchlenger) May 10, 2016

AK: Out of the two, running back Jerick McKinnon should have the higher expectations entering his third NFL season. That notion is furthered when you assess not only McKinnon’s production in his young career (4.9 yards per rush on 165 attempts), but also his fit as a shotgun back and receiver alongside quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. This summer, we’ll see what scheme changes are made to the offense with experienced assistants Pat Shurmur (tight ends) and Tony Sparano (offensive line) bringing new ideas to the table. A dynamic backfield duo opens the options with a powerful runner like Adrian Peterson and the shifty McKinnon. And I don’t expect the workloads to be as lopsided after last year’s 327 carries, a league high, for Peterson compared to McKinnon’s 52 attempts.

Tight end MyCole Pruitt (200 snaps) actually played more than McKinnon (160) last season, though circumstances with the offensive line dictated much of that. The Vikings leaned on heavy personnel packages to open holes for Peterson and, ideally, Pruitt’s role is more of a receiver in this offense. Pruitt’s involvement depends on a variety of factors, including his improvement as an all-around player, Rhett Ellison’s recovery from a torn patellar tendon and Kyle Rudolph’s availability. At tight end, Rudolph is the one who should see more plays come his way if the offensive line improves as they’re expecting.

@Andrew_Krammer Could both Smith & Loadholt make the roster? Cap space and rookie development mean one has to go or keep both for insurance? — Jon Darling (@WarleyOwl) May 10, 2016

AK: At this point, I have a difficult time seeing both make the roster. The Vikings’ move of second-year tackle T.J. Clemmings to the left side indicates they’d like him to be a top candidate for swing tackle behind Matt Kalil and either Phil Loadholt or Andre Smith on the right side. Though Loadholt has been the starter since he was taken in 2009’s second round, this offensive line isn’t in a position to pick favorites. A contested competition between the two veterans would make for a difficult decision, as neither have the benefit of playing other spots. Both are career right tackles. Versatility is a priority when activating just a couple backup linemen on game days. Cap space isn’t an issue as both players are effectively on one-year deals. The only guaranteed money between the two is Smith’s $1 million on a one-year, $3.5 million deal signed this offseason. Loadholt agreed to a restructure cutting his salary from $6 million down to $2.25 million. Both contracts have playing-time incentives, so both are expecting to start.

@Andrew_Krammer @1500ESPNJudd @GoesslingESPN so many LBs, so few spots. is Brothers strictly a special teamer? if so, he’ll be a good one

— Jason Smith (@HumanPerson1) May 10, 2016

AK: The Vikings may have found another fifth-round gem in ex-Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who was credited with more tackles per game than anyone in college football last fall. Brothers was also a special teams standout with three blocked kicks and should carve out a niche on this roster in that phase. But don’t limit your expectations for him. The Vikings are flexible at linebacker. Eric Kendricks, a 2015 second-round pick, was a three-down player as the base middle linebacker last season, but could shift to the outside should Brothers stand out on defense. They could use a boost against the run and that’s where Brothers can make his mark as a potential two-down middle linebacker. If that’s not in 2016, then Chad Greenway and Emmanuel Lamur figure to compete at weak-side linebacker with Kendricks in the middle.

@Andrew_Krammer @1500ESPNJudd @GoesslingESPN I still think DL is a greater strength but does Zim look for the LBs to get more pressures? — Bobby Hare (@Bobby_Hare) May 11, 2016

AK: Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer let the reins loose a bit on his defensive line last season. Players like Sharrif Floyd talked about the benefits of a strict scheme periodically giving linemen a ‘free play’ depending on the call and situation. What you should take away from that is Zimmer prides himself on changing his own rules to best fit his personnel. The Vikings have committed to improving the rest of the defense with top draft picks addressing linebacker and cornerback. Lamur and Brothers are the two new faces who could contribute immediately at linebacker. Though the most important factor here is health for the top duo. Anthony Barr and Kendricks were both limited by injuries last season. As an example, Barr’s blitz rate dropped when he broke his hand in the middle of 2015. If healthy, they’re the two expected to match the defensive line’s top-tier play.

@Andrew_Krammer @GoesslingESPN Please clarify what is and isn’t permitted in each phase of offseason (presence in bldg, coaching, etc.) — Tom Wesenberg (@alan1970page) May 11, 2016

AK: This week, the Vikings are in the final part of the offseason’s ‘phase two,’ which permits on-field work between coaches and players, but prohibits all team drills (7-on-7, 11-on-11) and live contact. Starting next week with Organized Team Activities (OTAs), players can finally begin putting their playbook studying to the test with full team drills. However, it’s still shorts and helmets throughout OTAs and Vikings mandatory minicamp in June, which all constitutes ‘phase three’ of the offseason. Only the three minicamp practices (June 14-16) are considered mandatory. Afterward, players take their summer break before they pop on pads for training camp in late July.

@Andrew_Krammer @1500ESPNJudd @GoesslingESPN Snagging Kearse in 7th was straight theft. Hearing rumblings he’s impressin.Starter potential?

— Pearl (@MatthewPearl_) May 10, 2016

AK: The Vikings coaching staff hopes they can unlock the potential of another underachieving college player in seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse. ‘Underachieving’ is all relative, of course, as Kearse was the final player drafted from the NCAA-finalist Clemson defense. He certainly has a well of motivation. Kearse also landed in a favorable spot with this coaching staff’s strong development record and a defense with an opening for a long-term safety next to Pro Bowler Harrison Smith. So yes, he has potential to start whether it’s this year or down the road. Zimmer likes lengthy athletes at each level of his defense. Kearse’s 6-foot-4-inch frame matches that of Bengals safety George Iloka, who was drafted in 2012’s fifth round (167th overall) and started every game in 2013 while Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator.

Email: So what’s up with passing on Andrew Billings in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round? Doesn’t sound like the guy has any medical or off-the-field issues, so not clear why his draft stock plummeted? But it was really disappointing to see the Vikings pass on him in the 4th, and then for the Bengals to select him with the next pick. How in the world can Beavers be more valuable than Billings? Makes me really wonder about Best Player Available (BPA) philosophy.

I also question picking Boehringer over Tyrone Holmes. Why take a flier on MoBo in the 6th with the 180th pick, versus going for the more proven commodity of Holmes? Holmes is a keeper, and Boehringer might not even make the team. Another case of “what were they thinking”? — Jill

AK: There have been a lot of inquiries into why the Vikings didn’t take a swing on Baylor nose tackle Andrew Billings, who was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round. The Vikings clearly didn’t prioritize defensive tackle with long-term players Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd in place. The coaching staff also likes the upside of third-year nose tackle Shamar Stephen. I can’t tell you why, but it’s clear Billings was loved by media draftniks much more than actual NFL personnel departments. The best player available conversation is always on an ad hoc basis, especially for an 11-win team coming off a division title. For instance, cornerback Mackensie Alexander was viewed as too good to pass up in the second round (54th overall) even though he may not contribute on defense until 2017. Alexander also fit a long-term need as Captain Munnerlyn enters the final year of his contract, set to make more than $4 million as a part-time player. After trading out of the third round, the Vikings made three picks before Billings was taken and, overall, they leaned developmental players on offense (guard Willie Beavers, receiver Moritz Boehringer) over defense, waiting until the seventh round to take Kearse and defensive end Stephen Weatherly. The same point applies to why the Vikings would take a chance on Boehringer over Montana defensive end Tyrone Holmes.

The post Mailbag: Vikings rookie expectations, state of linebackers and ‘why not Billings?’ appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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