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20 Questions: June-in-review
Last Update: 6/16/2004 8:46:32 AM
KFAN dot com

The Vikings wrapped up offseason practices Tuesday with the last of 10 developmental camp practices at Winter Park. With the training camp six weeks away, KFAN dot com already is set to play a game: 20 Questions.

1. Who has improved the most in the offseason?
Head coach Mike Tice maintains that wide receiver-cum-return specialist Keenan Howry has taken the biggest strides in the offseason, but one can’t ignore the progress of offensive tackle Adam Haayer. One of two O-lineman on the practice squad in 2003, Haayer has gotten stronger and quicker, and seems to grasp the team’s blocking schemes better than the other reserves.

2. But is Howry really that much better?
Keenan looked outstanding during camp, but most players appear quicker without pads, for obvious reasons. The Oregon alum appears to have improved his route-running ability – and will see action on offense in addition to playing as the starting punt returner this season, according to Tice – by keeping his body low and simplifying his footwork . Current No. 4 receiver Kelly Campbell is injury-prone, and the coaching staff will give Howry every opportunity to back up the position.

3. What was the biggest non-story in June?
The signing of “veteran” linebacker Merrill Robertson, a 6-foot-1, 248-pound ex-Eagle with zero game experience who has virtually no chance of making the team. He was signed as the nearest warm body but is far too slow to compete in Ted Cottrell’s scheme.

4. Have the Vikings drastically altered their offense?
Few significant changes were evident in June, but the Vikings experimented extensively with using an H-back as a third man in the shotgun backfield.

5. What was the strangest situation of training camp?
Cornerback Eric Kelly became angry over his demotion on the depth chart – for a single day in June – and demanded his release. Tice gave the fourth-year veteran two days off, but Kelly never came back. He has not been released by the club, but that move appears inevitable later this week.

6. Which undrafted rookies have the best shots to win a roster spot in Mankato?
Wide receiver Lane Danielson, guard Anthony Herrera and linebacker Grant Wiley made strong statements in developmental camp. Danielson and Wiley also could earn a spot on special teams.

7. Which veterans will enter training camp on the proverbial hotseat?
About a dozen guys could fall in this category, but the most prominent candidates for the cut sheet are linebacker Raonall Smith, wide receiver Kenny Clark and defensive end Billy Lyon.

8. Raonall Smith is still on the team?
Yep, and he might be the most unique case of any player. He has the physical tools to compete in the NFL and showed flashes during this month’s practices, but his durability, dedication and mentals remain huge question marks. There is a small chance that Smith could play his way into a starting job if certain courtroom concerns arise, but he more likely will find himself among the final cuts. The real question is, how much responsibility can the Vikings trust to a player who has been known to miss entire weeks of practice with a tender hamstring?

9. And these legal issues you speak of…?
Minneapolis police have yet to formally press charges against linebackers E.J. Henderson and Mike Nattiel, and tight end Steve Farmer for their roles an alleged assault outside a nightclub June 6. Charges will be pressed soon, according to team sources, although their impact on the seasons of Henderson and Nattiel – if any – remains unclear. Farmer, who has had two surgeries to repair a torn ACL and was expected to miss training camp even before the alleged incident, almost surely will be released.

10. Randy Moss’ foot…what ever happened with that?
The wide receiver, whose nagging plantar fasciitis became a hot topic during the team’s May minicamp, parcipated in every June practice. He said Tuesday the foot injury has not hampered him in weeks. He will continue to wear orthopedic insoles in his shoes to protect the foot.

11. How healthy is the team as a whole?
Wide receiver Blake Elliott broke his leg during the first week of developmental camp and Nattiel suffered a high-ankle sprain Monday morning. Beyond those two injuries (Nattiel’s is not considered serious) the Vikings stayed healthy over three weeks of formal practice.

12. How are the local kids faring so far?
Elliott (Melrose) has sewn up a roster spot – but it’s on the injured reserve. Wide receiver Ben Nelson (Anoka) spent the spring in NFL Europe and must make an impact on special teams to make the team. Tackle Adam Goldberg (Edina) struggled throughout June and still appears too soft to play at the pro level. Safety Ben Nauman (Rochester) is stuck at a deep position and appears a likely first-cut candidate.

13. How did the rest of the Europe league players fare?
Well, tight end Kane Anderson already has been released, but the others did well for themselves. Cornerback Horace Willis played well with the Rhein Fire, while former ‘U’ receiver Jermaine Mays excelled as a defensive back for the World Bowl XII-champion Berlin Thunder. Mays’ best shot at the roster probably is as a kick-blocking specialist.

14. Is the kicking situation already set?
More or less. Diminuitive rookie Dan Orner won't challenge incumbent kicker Aaron Elling, although the club is expected to bring in a low-level veteran to give Elling an extra push in Mankato. Punter Eddie Johnson, who lost his starting job last December, looked great during the final two weeks of developmental camp, but the coaching staff is reluctant to keep him over former Pro Bowler Darren Bennett.

15. What was the ugliest on-field sight during June?
Backup guard Lewis Kelly learning to play center. His attempts to snap in the shotgun – most of which sailed over the head of center/teacher Cory Withrow – drew uncontrollable laughs from several observers. Kelly lacked experience at the position, but took baby steps throughout June.

16. All seven draft picks made last year’s roster. Will the eight members of the 2004 class continue that tradition?
Probably not. Depth at several positions will place several draft picks in peril. Fourth-round tackle Nat Dorsey probably will hang around, but he may have regressed slightly from May to June. The Vikings’ fifth-rounder, linebacker Rod Davis, appears a step slow and cannot keep his balance when engaged by a blocker. Sixth-round safety Deandre’ Eiland must make the club on special teams, or perhaps steal action in dime coverage. Tight end Jeff Dugan, the team’s seventh-round pick out of Maryland, also is stuffed at a deep position, but will have the opportunity to beat out veterans Sean Berton and Richard Angulo for a reserve role.

17. Might the Vikings add another free agent before training camp?
Tice and company maintain that they are happy with the current roster, but wouldn’t mind upgrading several backups. Most notably, the club is not comfortable with backup middle linebacker Max Yates, especially with Henderson’s legal and health problems.

18. Will Kenny Mixon’s rumored suspension ever be finalized?
The NFL should hand down the suspension, most likely for the first four games this season, before training camp. But Mixon still claims the league has cleared him of any rules violations stemming from his DUI arrest last November. The club has contingency plans in place, most likely inserting Chuck Wiley at left end and accelerating the ascension of top draft pick Kenechi Udeze on the right side.

19. Which reserves have the best chance of usurping a starter in Mankato?
Safeties Willie Offord or Tyrone Carter could unseat Brian Russell if Russell fails to show improvement in man coverage and run support.

20. What’s the schedule for the remainder of the offseason?
The coaching staff will meet Thursday to evaluate the roster, then will take off about a month from work. Many players will continue their participation in the team’s offseason workout program at Winter Park. Coaches will reconvene two weeks before training camp to prepare playbooks and complete other camp-related preparations. Players report to training camp July 29.

Compiled by KFAN dot com’s Tom Pelissero

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