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Minnesota native has another shot with Vikings

Adam Thielen catches a pass at the Vikings rookie mini-camp in Eden Prairie, Minn. 2014 file / Forum Communications

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

But in his hometown of Detroit Lakes, the big question mark is: can Adam Thielen secure the No. 5 slot in the wide receiving corps?

After surviving the entire 2013 season on the Viking practice squad, a rare feat in itself, 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, who played college for Minnesota State University Mankato, 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 today, 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.