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Thielen gunning roster spot

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Thielen gunning roster spot
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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – When the Minnesota Vikings report to their annual training camp in Mankato Thursday, the spotlight will likely be on the quarterbacks and defense.

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But in the Detroit Lakes area, the big question mark is: who will be securing the No. 5 slot in the wide receiving corp.

After surviving the entire 2013 season on the Viking practice squad, a rare feat in itself, Detroit Lakes’ Adam Thielen will be entering his second training camp as one of the favorites to win the potential No. 5 spot.

Thielen had a spectacular offseason, which started by him signing a future’s contract, which ensured his spot on the Vikings’ roster through OTA’s and minicamps.

He took full advantage of the opportunity, as he became one of the players who stood out during these camps under the watchful eyes of new head coach Mike Zimmer and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Thielen was seen leading drills during the rookie and undrafted players’ camp, while he continued his progression as an NFL wide receiver by polishing up his already solid route running.

It remains a long road for the undrafted Thielen to become the first player from Detroit Lakes to make an NFL roster. But there are signs that Thielen may have an inside track in securing a spot on the Vikings roster.

Unlike last year, Thielen has been able to train the entire time at Winter Park with the Vikings. He has more than a year of practicing with established NFL players such as Greg Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph, as well as wide receiver coach holdover George Stewart, who was a big supporter of Thielen during last year’s training camp.

The fact that Viking general manager Rick Spielman offered Thielen a future’s contract is another good sign.

Another sign is the Vikings did not draft one receiver in all 10 of its picks, despite this year’s NFL Draft being one of the deepest in wide receiver talent.

Spielman was quoted as saying during a KFAN radio broadcast in June that: “Adam kind of really stuck out” when asked to name someone that’s progressed from last year.

Entering training camp, there will be 11 wide receivers on the roster.

Barring injury, the top four slots are virtually secured led by veteran Jennings and followed by last year’s rookie sensation Cordarrelle Patterson, with third-year player Jarius Wright and veteran Jerome Simpson holding the three and four slots.

History shows that a Turner-led offense has usually held at least five receivers on the roster.

That basically leaves one spot open for seven prospects, including last year practice squad players Thielen and Florida State’s Rodney Smith and first-year Vikings Kain Colter (Northwestern), Josh Cooper (Oklahoma State), Donte Foster (Ohio), Kamar Jorden (Bowling Green) and Erik Lora (Eastern Illinois).

Through OTA’s and minicamps, Thielen and Smith had the advantage and it looks like entering July 24, it’s a two-horse race out of the gates for the final WR spot.

Jorden and Lora have good potential as pass catchers, with Jorden actually resembling Thielen in size and speed.

But unless one or both of them absolutely unleashes in the preseason, the best bet for either is a spot on the practice squad for development.

With Smith, he possesses something no Viking wide receiver has and that’s size. His 6-5, 200-pound frame does make him a desirable red zone target and that’s what helped him get called up last year in the latter half of the season.

Thielen has plenty of advantages working in his favor.

His 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame is not a detriment. He has separated himself from the competition with his crisp, accurate route running and hands which haul in everything, especially his ability to make the acrobatic catches, something he has shown since his high school playing days on Mollberg Field in Detroit Lakes.

Thielen also has the football intelligence coaches love. He can digest a playbook and be a quarterback’s best friend. His work ethic is another plus.

Thielen also has the ability to play special teams, which in the end, could be the ultimate factor of him making the team.

Another little nugget to think about, as well, is the potential four-game suspension of Simpson, who has already served a suspension a couple of years ago and now found himself in trouble again last year with a DUI.

If that is the case, it opens up two spots on the wide receiver rotation, that is of course, if the Vikings don’t pick up any other free agents through first-round and final preseason cuts leading up to the opening game on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.

Vikings add tight end

Higgins, drop DE Nealy

The Minnesota Vikings signed free agent tight end Mike Higgins and waived defensive end Spencer Nealy on Wednesday.

Higgins spent the first three seasons of his career with the New Orleans Saints after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Last year, he was on the Saints' practice squad. He has two catches in four years in the NFL.

Higgins played college football at Nebraska-Omaha.

Nealy, whose father, Ed, played 10 seasons in the NBA, saw action in one preseason game for the Vikings in 2013 and had three tackles. He finished his rookie season on Minnesota's practice squad

TRAINING CAMP

PREVIEW

Minnesota Vikings

—TSX Predicts: 4th in NFC North

—2013: 5-10-1, 4th in NFC North

—Training Camp Dates (rookies, vets report): Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minn., 7/24, 7/24

—2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: Division .490 (16/32); non-division .469 (T24/32); overall .477 (21/32).

—Primetime Games: 1 (1 Thursday)

—STRENGTH: Running back. Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league. He is healthy after offseason groin surgery. And he has that same me-versus-the-world mentality going now that people are starting to question his age (29) following what was a down season by his lofty standards.

The last time everyone assumed the worst for Peterson, he ran for 2,097 yards eight months after ACL surgery. The fact he ran for 1,266 yards in 14 games last season — six of them with the groin injury— should be a sign of his greatness, rather than a red flag that he's on the downside of the traditional career path for a running back.

Peterson also should benefit from his first season under offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who obviously is a significant upgrade over Bill Musgrave. Look for Peterson to have more room to run because of a better conceived attack as well as Peterson's increased role in the passing game.

Toby Gerhart, Peterson's dependable backup the past four seasons is gone. But rookie third-round draft pick Jerick McKinnon is the change-of-pace back that Gerhart wasn't and Turner covets for his passing attack.

—WEAKNESS: Linebacker. If not the weakest position, it will be at least suspect unless or until first-round draft pick Anthony Barr proves himself. Even if Barr does contribute immediately, the unit is thin and so far there are more questions than obvious answers.

Nine-year veteran Chad Greenway is steady and healthy, but can he keep pace and do all of the things head coach Mike Zimmer will ask of him as a three-down player at age 31? Will Barr be able to transform freakish physical tools into a productive NFL linebacker? Can Jasper Brinkley play well enough to fill the gaping hole at middle linebacker? And who among the several intriguing but unproven prospects — Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, among others — will step forward to provide reliable depth and/or push Brinkley and Barr?

KEY PERSONNEL MOVES

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (RD/OVERALL PICK)

—LB Anthony Barr (1/9); 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—QB Teddy Bridgewater (1/32): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—DE Scott Crichton (3/72): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—RB Jerick McKinnon (3/96): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—G David Yankey (5/145): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—S Antone Exum (6/182): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—CB Kendall James (6/184): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—DT Shamar Stephen (7/220): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—LB Brandon Watts (7/223): 4 yrs, terms unknown.

—CB Jabari Price (7/225: 4 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

—RB Matt Asiata: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.

—C/G Joe Berger: UFA; terms unknown.

—QB Matt Cassel: Potential UFA; $10M/2 yrs.

—NT Fred Evans: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

—DE Everson Griffen: UFA; $42.5M/5 yrs, $6M SB/$19.8M guaranteed.

—LG Charlie Johnson: UFA; $5M/2 yrs.

—WR Jerome Simpson: UFA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

—LB Jasper Brinkley: FA Cardinals; terms unknown.

—CB Derek Cox: FA Chargers; $780,000/11 yr.

—G Vladimir Ducasse: UFA Jets; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.

—DT Linval Joseph: UFA Giants; $31.5M/5 yrs.

—CB Captain Munnerlyn: UFA Panthers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.

—DE Corey Wootton: UFA Bears; $1.5M/1 yr, $400,000 SB.

PLAYERS LOST

—DE Jared Allen: UFA Bears; $32M/4 yrs, $15.5M guaranteed.

—TE John Carlson (released).

—WR Greg Childs (released).

—CB Chris Cook: UFA 49ers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

—RB Toby Gerhart: UFA Jaguars; $10.5M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.

—DT Letroy Guion (released).

—LB Erin Henderson (released).

—OT J'Marcus Webb: UFA Chiefs; terms unknown.

—WR Joe Webb: UFA Panthers; terms unknown.

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Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN. 
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