The word frustrated is an understatement if you were a Vikings fan last year. In a 10 loss season, six of those losses were by 7 points or less, which leads most to believe that if this team resembled something close to a high school junior varsity offense – they could’ve turn at least 3 of those losses to wins. Now does that make them anything better than a sub-par-team? Maybe not, but the sting of a five win season adds little to look forward to. The Vikings have underwent a coaching over-haul and hired former Bengals defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer as the new head coach. Maybe just as important and culture changing as the hiring of Zimmer, was acquiring the talents of Norv Turner to be the team’s new offensive coordinator.
The Vikings had to make a decision on all-pro lineman Jared Allen, and they decided to thank him for his time and let him go. At his age, Allen would’ve been too much to hold on to and the team decided to spend that money on their 26 year old defensive end, Everson Griffen. Griffen is a solid athlete at the position but it will be interesting to see how he handles the responsibility of being the teams lead-pass-rusher now with Allen gone. The Vikings signed former Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Joseph is more than a hole-plugger or run stopper at the position, he is also one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the league. On August 9th, Joseph as an innocent bystander, was shot in his calf while at a nightclub – but the reports have mostly come back that he will be just fine. The Vikings drafted Anthony Barr out of UCLA, who was taken mostly for his “ceiling” because he still needs time to fine tune his tackling skills and his tendency to over-run a play. He’ll be learning alongside veteran Chad Greenway, who for the most part has been a sure tackler throughout his career.
The strength of the Vikings defense may just be it’s secondary. One has to say that with some hesitancy though because, this is a secondary that is packed with more ‘expected potential’ than anything else. Last year the Vikings drafted cornerback Xavier Rhodes who at times seemed over matched and over worked, but seemed to exhibit a trait that comes with most veteran corners: he has a short memory. Rhodes was able to rebound from rookie mistakes and bounce right back the next time he was tested. Captain Munnerlyn signed with the Vikings in the off-season and since he left the University of South Carolina, he has been one of the more under-rated cornerbacks in the NFL. Munnerlyn has played the slot, the two and the one at times – he is a pretty good tackler and has turned himself into a leader in the secondary. The Vikings weren’t playing around with the corner position this year as they drafted three in this years draft. The one that stands apart from the others is sixth round pick Antone Exum. Exum has been quoted that he does not want to play safety but that hasn’t stopped the Vikings from having him at that position in practices. Exum has a big frame and the Vikings will be smart to use his versatility in the secondary as best as they can. Safety Harrison Smith is the teams best playmaker in the secondary but unfortunately missed half the season due to injury last year. His instincts and reaction time sets him in the upper echelon of safeties in the league, and he is only 25.
The offense of the Vikings begins and ends with the future hall of fame running back, Adrian Peterson. Peterson finished with over 1200 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last year which to his standards – was disappointing. Peterson has been used to carrying the ball anywhere in the vicinity of 25-30 times a game and doing so against eight man fronts. Those eight men defensive fronts have become something of a norm because of the lack of play under center. In 2011 the Vikings took the ill-fated gamble in selecting Christian Ponder with the number 12 overall pick in the draft. It is now 2014 and the most notable accomplishment for Ponder has been marrying ESPN’s Samantha Steele. Ponder is now the team’s third string quarterback as the starting job is between veteran Matt Cassel and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is a rookie who comes into the league as the most “head ready” rookie QB of his class. He has so far been spoken of in the highest regard by his offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has been beaming about Bridgewater’s accuracy, pocket presence and intellect. It’s going to be a hard battle for Cassel to win especially with Cassel knowing that Bridgewater is the eventual franchise QB for the Vikings.
Both quarterbacks will get help taking snaps with the first team offense. The offensive line struggles in pass protection but excels in the running game. Left tackle Matt Kalil has proven to be worth the first round selection he was and right tackle Phil Loadholt is a big body who along with right guard Brandon Fusco provide a right side of the line where Peterson usually runs behind. This O-Line has been bred in Minnesota to do whatever they can in the run game to help out their best player, Adrian Peterson but in truth, Peterson isn’t afraid of the contact and can handle most on his own – the offensive line needs to get stronger in pass protection to not make this offense as one dimensional as it’s been recently.
Being a one-dimensional offense is not in the DNA of offensive coordinator Norv Turner though and he has interesting options at his disposal. Most notably is second year wide out Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson is Percy Harvin packaged in a 6’2″ 220 pound frame. Expect Patterson to be lined up everywhere on the field, even be given the opportunity in wide receiver screen plays to display his game breaking ability. Greg Jennings is not what he used to be, but what he still is, is a reliable receiver, with great route running ability who can be the leader for this young receiver corp. Jarius Wright might fight off the bigger Jerome Simpson for playing time or at least break it even. Simpson is a bigger body who can provide support in the run game, while Wright may be more of the speedy slot option.
When talking about a Norv Turner offense, their is one position in particular where a player blossoms: tight end. Kyle Rudolph knows what he expects from himself and what the Vikings expect from him, which is why they signed him to a five year extension at the start of team practices this season. Norv Turner and his quarterbacks have more than enough talent on this offense to make them leaps and bounds more competitive as an offensive unit than last year. The key will be the development of the offensive line in pass protection.
Stopping the run will be the key on defense and a healthy Harrison Smith will make sure they improve in that area. Expect the Vikings to come on a lot stronger than last year.
2014 Prediction: 8-8
Pro Bowl Selections: Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Harrison Smith