In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at several players on their roster with something to prove this season, excluding rookies. We will focus primarily on veterans or players being asked to assume a larger role this season. Today: defensive end Corey Wootton.
Why he has something to prove: Wootton had an impressive 2012 season with the Chicago Bears, posting seven sacks while starting just seven games, but a nagging hip injury kept him from building on his breakout 2012 performance in 2013. Wootton started 15 games for the Bears, but had just 3 1/2 sacks as his hip injury slowed his first step, and the Bears let him walk in free agency. He had surgery following the season, and he's expecting to be 100 percent for the start of training camp. Playing on a one-year, incentive-laden deal that could pay him up to $2 million, the 27-year-old will have plenty at stake with the Vikings in 2014.
What he must do: The 6-foot-6 Wootton could be a good fit in the system of head coach Mike Zimmer, who had a couple of tall, long-armed defensive ends in Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson in Cincinnati. Wootton will probably play a rotational basis, with Brian Robison and Everson Griffen likely to start at the two defensive end positions, but that kind of a role could suit Wootton; he played inside and outside with the Bears, and he'd be able to stay fresh in a limited role, which is how he did much of his best work with the Bears in 2012. Four of Wootton's seven sacks that season came in games where he played 38 snaps or less. He'll find ways onto the field as the Vikings move Griffen, Robison and Anthony Barr around, and if he's healthy and rested, his quick first step could help him be a disruptive player.
Projection: Wootton has a solid year as a rotational player in Zimmer's defense and puts himself in position to head back into free agency in search of a starting job in 2015. He'll only be 28 next spring, and if he's productive, it's difficult to imagine the Vikings keeping him when they've already got so much money committed to Robison and Griffen. But the guess here is that Wootton will make enough contributions in 2014 that he'll create a solid market for himself.