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Opportunity within reach for Detroit Lakes native, Vikings receiver Thielen

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen spent all of last season on the team’s practice squad. USA Today Sports

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – When the Minnesota Vikings reported to their annual training camp on Thursday at Minnesota State-Mankato, the spotlight will likely be on the quarterbacks and defense.

But in the Detroit Lakes area, the big question mark is: Who will be securing the Vikings’ No. 5 slot on the depth chart at wide receiver.

After surviving the entire 2013 season on the Vikings practice squad, a rare feat in itself, Detroit Lakes’ Adam Thielen enters 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 futures 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 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 Vikings general manager Rick Spielman offered Thielen a futures 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’s practice squad players Thielen and Florida State’s Rodney Smith, along with first-year Vikings players 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 camp, 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 Vikings wide receiver has, and that’s size. His 6-foot-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 at 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 could be the ultimate factor in 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.

Wierima is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune