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Thursday, July 24, 2008
Vikings position battles

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The Minnesota Vikings' starting lineup is virtually locked up, but there will be some competition for playing time in a few areas during training camp. Here are two:

Tight end: Visanthe Shiancoe vs. Jim Kleinsasser

Shiancoe is trying to rebound from a tough debut season with the Vikings in which he dropped three touchdown passes and never seemed comfortable in the offense. Coaches have lauded his progress and demeanor, not to mention weight loss, during the offseason. But Shiancoe will have to prove he can catch the ball consistently this summer in order to retain his role as the primary tight end.

Kleinsasser is a strong veteran blocker who has rarely been asked to participate much in the passing game. But his playing time increased last season as Shiancoe struggled, and the Vikings won't be afraid to use him -- or veterans Jeff Dugan and Garrett Mills -- in place of Shiancoe if necessary.

With tailback Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the tight end should be a powerful weapon in this offense, especially in play-action.

Intensity index: Mild

Nickel back: Marcus McCauley vs. Charles Gordon vs. Tyrell Johnson

Ah, the all-important nickel battle. If this ranks in a team's top two personnel questions, you know you're in decent shape.

That said, the Vikings spent plenty of time in their nickel pass defense last season as teams abandoned the run against them. There's no reason to expect anything different this season, meaning that, in reality, their nickel back will have the prominence of a starting corner.

Gordon and McCauley shared the role last season, with Gordon enjoying more success. But the Vikings will be looking for ways to get Johnson -- considered a steal in the second round -- on the field.

In the end, the team could create several different personnel packages and use Johnson in "big nickel" situations against opposing tight ends and slot receivers. Gordon has the best one-on-one cover ability of the three and is the favorite for the traditional nickel role.

Intensity index: Hot