Vikings training camp features four Gophers

Minnesota Vikings linebackers Chad Greenway, left, and Nate Triplett, right, head to the field during the NFL team's training camp which opened Friday, July 30, 2010 in Mankato, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Jim Mone, AP

Minnesota Vikings linebackers Chad Greenway, left, and Nate Triplett, right, head to the field during the NFL team’s training camp which opened Friday, July 30, 2010 in Mankato, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

John Hageman

MANKATO âÄî It was about this time last year that Nate Triplett and Marcus Sherels began fall camp in preparation for their final season as Gophers football players. This year, theyâÄôre suiting up for that other Minnesota football team. Triplett and Sherels are two of four former Gophers participating in their first Minnesota Vikings training camp in Mankato, along with NFL veterans Rhys Lloyd (kicker) and Logan Payne (wide receiver). Triplett said the GophersâÄô fall camps prepared him well for training camp, but there is a decidedly smaller margin for error in the NFL. âÄúItâÄôs a lot different obviously; the gameâÄôs a lot faster and takes a little keener of an eye,âÄù Triplett said. âÄúBut really all IâÄôve been doing is watching the guys ahead of me âÄî on the field or in film âÄî and just seeing how they approach the game.âÄù After Triplett started for just one season in college, the Vikings took him with the 167th overall pick in AprilâÄôs NFL draft , and will likely use him primarily on special teams. But Triplett isnâÄôt satisfied with that, and hopes to continue playing linebacker in the future. He has been playing weakside linebacker behind former Iowa Hawkeyes star Chad Greenway at practice. âÄúIâÄôm not going to be happy just doing [special teams] obviously,âÄù Triplett said. âÄúIâÄôm getting my work in on the field as a linebacker, and IâÄôm just trying to make my mark there.âÄù But while Triplett signed a four-year contract with the Vikings and has likely locked up a roster spot, and Lloyd has started regularly for two seasons, Sherels and Payne are still fighting for a job. Sherels went undrafted in April, and is looking to find a spot in a veteran-filled secondary that includes pro-bowlers Lito Shepherd and Antoine Winfield. The Vikings have yet to make any cuts and have until Sept. 4 to trim the roster from more than 80 down to 53 . Sherels said heâÄôs focused only on impressing his coaches at SaturdayâÄôs preseason opener against St. Louis, and not his chances of making the team. âÄúI canâÄôt wait,âÄù Sherels said Monday as he carried a teammateâÄôs pads off the field, a ritual for rookies in camp. âÄúItâÄôs my time to shine and show them I can make plays.âÄù Sherels knows a thing or two about trying to make the cut, having originally joined the Gophers as a walk-on wide receiver before earning a starting job at cornerback his junior and senior seasons. Sherels had two interceptions in FridayâÄôs practice , and Vikings head coach Brad Childress said that although Sherels is undersized âÄî the Vikings list the former Gophers kick returner at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds âÄî he expects Sherels will make a big play sometime during the preseason. âÄúHe has had a nice camp here; heâÄôs a smart guy,âÄù Childress said. âÄúHeâÄôs a guy thatâÄôs not getting as many snaps as those first two groups, but heâÄôll flash somewhere in the preseason, you [can] almost guarantee it.âÄù Although he is competing within a deep receiving core, Payne seems to be getting a legitimate look from the Vikings coaches. Payne also went undrafted after graduating in 2007, and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seattle Seahawks. After a year on the practice squad he caught two passes in the 2008 season opener, but injured his knee the next game and has bounced around on practice squads with the Detroit Lions and Kansas Chiefs since. As a senior on the Gophers football team in 2006, Payne tallied a team-leading 59 catches for 804 yards and nine touchdowns. He has a unique shot at this yearâÄôs camp with the VikingsâÄô two leading receivers, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, missing time due to a hip injury and a death in the family, respectively. âÄú[Payne] has some knowledge of the system,âÄù Childress said. âÄú[Payne and other receivers] are getting more looks that they donâÄôt normally get.âÄù Lloyd, who arrived at Minnesota the same year as Payne and handled punting, field goal and kickoff duties for the Gophers, was signed by the Vikings this offseason after spending two years as the Carolina PanthersâÄô starting kickoff man. He expects to play a similar role, as a kickoff specialist, for the Vikings. Lloyd is most remembered for his game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of the 2003 Sun Bowl to give the Gophers a 31-30 victory over Oregon. For his reputation of keeping cool under pressure, he earned the nickname âÄúWinston Churchill.âÄù âÄúItâÄôs good to be back in Minnesota,âÄù Lloyd said. âÄúI lived here for eight-plus years and I kind of consider it my second home, other than England.âÄù Vikings special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said Lloyd and veteran kicker Ryan Longwell (who also handles field goals) will split kicking duties during the first two preseason games, but the Vikings are unsure if they want to use two roster spots on place kickers with a 53-man roster. Triplett and Sherels are roommates in Mankato, and although Triplett has a more certain future than Sherels, Payne or Lloyd, he said rooming with his former teammate has helped to ease into life in the NFL. âÄúWe talk about what we were thinking about this time last year and how much itâÄôs changed,âÄù Triplett said. âÄúTo have a roommate with me thatâÄôs on the same page, the same year even, itâÄôs pretty cool.âÄù