Vikings camp helps Minnesota State recruit (except with Packers fans)

The 2012 football season was an interesting one for Aaron Keen.

Minnesota Vikings: A position-by-position breakdown for training camp

The first sign this training camp will be different? That will come right away, when Vikings players report to Minnesota State University on Thursday and find that Gage Tower — the cramped dormitory that housed players for more than four decades — is no longer there waiting for them.

The Vikings Prove-It Series: Desmond Bishop

We’re back with another installment in our Vikings Prove-It series, in which  we take a closer look at a player facing a pivotal 2013 season. Up next: Desmond Bishop.

Let’s start here: If Desmond Bishop didn’t have something to prove this season, he probably would be playing against, not for, the Vikings.

The linebacker was one of the most physical and reliable defenders for the 2011 Packers, a team that had few defensive players who embodied both of those adjectives. And in 2010, Bishop might have been even better, stepping in for an injured Nick Barnett and making one of the pivotal plays in the Packers’ Super Bowl victory. He recovered Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter, stopping a fierce Steelers rally and setting up a Green Bay touchdown.

But Bishop was available to the Vikings this June, largely because of a torn hamstring that caused him to miss all of the 2012 season. Now, he’ll have to adjust to a new team, a new defensive scheme (Bishop was one of two inside linebackers in the Packers’ 3-4 defense) and fight off a handful of linebackers to stick with the Vikings at age 29.

Bishop said before the Packers cut him that he was “100 percent” healthy, and if that’s true, he gives the Vikings something they’ve lacked in their linebacking group: a true thumper who can alter a game with big hits. He had eight sacks in his last two seasons with the Packers — an impressive total from the inside of a 3-4 scheme — and forced seven fumbles  from 2008-11, matching Chad Greenway’s career total despite starting for just two of those seasons. The Vikings have improved on defense, but this is still a group short on players who create turnovers. If Bishop is back to his old self, he might help the Vikings in that area more than anywhere else.

He has been up and down in pass coverage — Pro Football Focus ranked him the 10th-best inside linebacker in the league there in 2010, before Bishop slipped to 37th there in 2011. Some of that might have been his surroundings; the 2010 Packers had one of the league’s best pass defenses, while the 2011 group was the league’s worst. But either he or Henderson will be asked to play middle linebacker in the nickel, as well, and in a Cover-2 scheme, the middle linebacker also has significant coverage responsibilities in the base defense. How Bishop covers tight ends in training camp will be worth watch, especially after Kyle Rudolph burned Henderson a time or two on seam routes in OTAs.

Bishop, who turned 29 today, has plenty of motivation to prove he’s still got something left; he was in the middle of a four-year, $19 million deal with the Packers, and will make less than $1 million in base salary this season, though incentives could push his compensation north of seven figures. But the real driving force will be a chance to get into the open market one more time next spring and prove he deserves a multi-year deal. That could come from the Vikings, if Bishop plays well, or it could be elsewhere, but first he has to show he can be the dynamic linebacker he was before hamstring surgery.

 The Vikings Prove It Series: Desmond Bishop

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Charley Walters: Matt Birk is back helping the Vikings

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