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Monday, May 7, 2012
On Vikings safeties and place-kickers

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

I realize most of Minnesota, and a good portion of the NFC North, is focused on Monday's scheduled debate and vote on the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill. But I'm told by sources close to the situation that the Vikings held a three-day rookie minicamp over the weekend, and while it's dangerous to read much of anything into what happens at such events, two items jumped out to me in reviewing accounts of the weekend.

First, the Vikings will start off fifth-round choice Robert Blanton at safety rather than cornerback, immediately escalating his chances of making the team and seeing the field in 2012. As coach Leslie Frazier told reporters, the Vikings finished 2011 without an established starter at either safety position. "We want an open competition," Frazier said.

The Vikings have not yet re-signed 2011 starter Husain Abdullah, who struggled with concussions last season. That leaves Blanton to compete with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond for the spot opposite the one likely to be held by first-round draft choice Harrison Smith.

Second, there was no mistaking that the Vikings drafted Georgia place-kicker Blair Walsh to mount a serious threat at incumbent Ryan Longwell, who only a year ago signed a multiyear contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus.

Over the weekend, Ben of Chicago wondered if the Vikings wanted to use Walsh as a kickoff specialist, one who would justify his roster spot by limiting the number of coverage specialists the Vikings might need to keep. Frazier said that scenario is "possible" but made clear "it's not in the game plan right now."

As we discussed over draft weekend, teams don't use draft picks on place-kickers without a significant purpose. In recent history, it's usually been either to unseat an incumbent or to fill an obvious hole.

In the five drafts between 2007 and 2011, NFL teams drafted eight place-kickers. Seven of them appeared on their team's roster at some point during their rookie season, although one of them -- David Buehler of the Dallas Cowboys -- was strictly a kickoff specialist.

Longwell will turn 38 in August, but I wouldn't consider replacing him to be atop the Vikings' list of needs. Still, Frazier said "we are obviously going to take a close look" at Walsh this summer in training camp. Stay tuned on that one.